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Prepared in Cooperation with the United States Department of 

State as a Project oj the Interdepartmental Committee 

on Scientific and Cultural Cooperation 

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. GoTernment Printing Office Washington 25, D. C. -..-------. Price 63 cents 



Smithsonian Institution, 
Institute of Social Anthropology, 

Washington 25, D. C, June 21, 1948. 
Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith a manuscript entitled "Nomads 
of the Long Bow: The Siriono of Eastern Bolivia," by Allan R. Holmberg, and 
to recommend that it be published as Publication Number 10 of the Institute of 
Social Anthropology. 

Very respectfully yours, 

George M. Foster, Director. 
Dr. Alexander Wetmore, 

Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. 


Phonetic note 


Setting and people 

Physical type 




Glue manufacture 

Textile industries 






Dress and ornament 


Exploitative activities 

Seasonal cycle 





Animal husbandry 

Water and fuel 

Food and drink 


Food taboos 

Preservation and storage of food. 

Preparation of food 




Routine activities of life 

Daily round 

Work and division of labor 

Travel and transportation 

Art, music, and dancing 



Folk beliefs and science 

Numeration, mensuration, and time reckoning- 
Social and political organization 

The family 

The extended family 

The band 

Kinship system 

Kinship behavior 

Social stratification 


Law and social control 

Ingroup conflict 


The life cycle 




Multiple births 

A case of twins 





Puberty rites 

I\ I arriage 


Old age 

Disease and medicine 

Death and burial 

Religion and magic 




The soul 

Some problems and conclusions 




(All plates at end of book) 



Siriono hut, pregnant woman, and a 14-year-old boy. 

Siriono chief and his wives, and Siriono boys. 

Method of carrying baskets by men, a boy drawing bow, 

bringing in firewood, and hunter with curassow. 
Hunters returning from forest with coatis and monkeys. 

5. Hunter leaning on pole, and cutting up a tortoise. 

6. Cutting up and roasting monkey meat. 

7. Mother carrying baby in sling, and decorations worn 

by father of newborn child. 


1. Lineal kinship chart Siriono (male speaking) 

2. Lineal kinship chart Siriono (female speaking). . 




3. Affinal kinship chart Siriono (male speaking) 56 

4. Affinal kinship chart Siriono (female speaking).. 56 


1. Territory occupied by the Siriono in eastern Bolivia. 




In the pronouncing and writing of native words, vowels and consonants have Spanish values. Exceptions to this 
are the following: 

c = ch as in chair. 
g = g as in yo. 
h=h as in hat. 
j=j as in joke. 
k = k as in keep. 
N=ng as in sing. 
s = sh as in shop. 
w=w as in want. 
z=z as in zone. 

Nomads of the Long Bow 

The Siriono of Eastern Bolivia 

By Allan R. Holmberg 


This study 1 was carried out under the auspices 
of the Social Science Research Council, of which 
I was a predoctoral fellow in 1940-41. It had its 
origin in 1939, when I was associated with the 
Cross-Cultural Survey at the Institute of Human 
Relations, Yale University. While studying there, 
I was privileged to get considerable exposure to 
the cross-disciplinary approach to the problems of 
culture and behavior which was, and still is, being 
emphasized at the Institute, expecially by Drs. 
Murdock, Hull, Dollard, Miller, Ford, and 

As I continued my anthropological studies, it 
became more and more apparent to me, as to 
others, that a science of culture and behavior was 
most apt to arise from the application of tech- 
niques, methods, and approaches of several 
scientific disciplines concerned with human be- 
havior — particularly social anthropology, soci- 
ology-, psychology, and psychoanalysis — to spe- 
cific problems. Consequently, in casting around 
for a subject on which to carry out field work, 
I began to search for one that would be especially 
adaptable to cross-discipliuary treatment. 

While studying at the Institute of Human 
Relations, I became keenly aware of the significant 
role played by such basic drives as hunger, thirst, 
pain, and sex, in forming, instilling, and changing 
habits. Because of the difficulty of studying 
human behavior under laboratory conditions, our 
knowledge about the processes of learning has 
been derived largely from experimental studies of 
animals. However, the procedure, successfully 
employed in psychological experimentation, of 
depriving animals of food suggested that it might 

1 The data in slightly different form were presented to the Graduate School 
of Yale University in partial fulfillment for the degree of doctor of philosophy. 

be possible to gain further insight into the relation- 
ship between the principles of learning and cultural 
forms and processes by studying a group of per- 
ennially hungry human beings. It was logical to 
assume that where the conditions of a sparse and 
insecure food supply exist in human society the 
frustrations and anxieties centering around the 
drive of hunger should have significant repercus- 
sions on behavior and on cultural forms them- 
selves. Hence, I took as my general problem the 
investigation of the relation between the economic 
aspect and other aspects of culture in a society 
functioning under conditions of a sparse and in- 
secure food supply. More specifically, the prob- 
lem resolved itself into determining, if possible, 
the effect of a more or less constant frustration of 
the hunger drive on such cultural forms as diet, 
food taboos, eating habits, dreams, antagonisms, 
magic, religion, and sex relations, and upon such 
cultural processes as integration, mobility, sociali- 
zation, education, and change. 

In our own society there are many individuals 
who suffer from lack of food, but one rarely finds 
hunger as a group phenomenon. For this reason 
a primitive society, the Siriono of eastern Bolivia, 
was chosen for study. The Siriono were selected 
for several reasons. In the first place, they were 
reported to be seminomadic and to suffer from 
lack of food. In the second place, they were 
known to be a functioning society. In the third 
place, the conditions for study among them 
seemed favorable, since it was possible to make 
contact with the primitive bands roaming in the 
forest through an Indian school which had been 
established by the Bolivian Government in 1937 
for those Siriono who had come out of the forest 
and abandoned aboriginal life. 


I left for Bolivia on September 28, 1940, and 
arrived in the field on November 28, 1940. Be- 
tween November 28, 1940, and May 17, 1941, 
I worked with informants of various bands of 
Siriono who had been gathered together in a 
Bolivian Government Indian school at Casarabe, 
a kind of mixed village of Indians and Bolivians, 
situated about 40 miles east of Trinidad, capital 
of the Department of the Beni. At the time of 
my stay this so-called school had a population 
of about 325 Indians. 

Following my residence in Casarabe, where I 
became grounded in the Indian language and 
those aspects of the aboriginal culture that stdl 
persisted there, I left in May 1941, to join a band 
of about 60 Siriono who were living under some- 
what more primitive conditions near the Rio 
Blanco on a cocao plantation, called Chiquigiiani, 
which was at that time a kind of branch of the 
above-mentioned school. Upon arriving at Chi- 
quiguani, however, I found that as a result of 
altercations with the Bolivians, the Indians had 
dispersed into the forest, and so I encountered 
no people with whom to work. Consequently, 
I returned to a ranch near the village of El 
Carmen. There I was fortunate in meeting an 
American cattle rancher, Frederick Park Richards, 
since deceased, who had resided in the area for 
many years and who had a number of Siriono 
living on his farm and cattle ranch. Through 
him I was presented to a Bolivian, Luis Silva 
Sanchez, a first-rate bushman and explorer for 
the aforementioned school, who offered to be my 
companion and who stayed with me during most 
of the time that I lived and wandered with the 
Siriono. In company with Silva I set out in 
search of the Indians who had dispersed into the 
forest. After about 10 days they were located, 
and they agreed to settle on the banks of the Rio 
Blanco, about 2 or 3 days' journey up the river by 
canoe from the village of El Carmen, at a place 
which we founded and named Tibaera, the Indian 
word for assai palm, the site being so designated 
because of the abundance of this tree found there. 
I spent from July 15 to August 28, 1941, at 
Tibaera, continuing my general cultural and 
linguistic studies, but under what I regarded as 
unsatisfactory conditions, since I had previously 
laid my plans and devoted my energies to acquiring 
techniques for observing a group of Siriono who 
had had little or no previous contact. Conse- 

quently, I suggested to Silva that we go in search 
of other Indians. Finally, on August 28, 1941, 
I set out from Tibaera, in company with Silva 
and parts of two extended families of Indians 
(21 people in all), traveling east and south through 
the raw bush in the general direction of the 
Franciscan Missions of Guarayos, where we were 
told by the Indians that we might locate another 
band who had had little or no previous contact. 
After 8 days of rough travel, much of which 
involved passing through swamps and through 
an area which had long been abandoned by the 
Siriono, we joyously arrived at a section of high 
ground containing relatively recent remains of a 
Siriono camp site. My Indian companions told 
me that this site had been occupied by a small 
number of Indians who had come there in quest of 
calabashes about three "moons" earlier. 

Inspired by the hope of soon locating a primitive 
band, we silenced our guns and lived by hunting 
with the bow and arrow so as not to frighten any 
Indians that might be within earshot of a gun. 
We followed the rude trails which had been made 
by the Indians about 3 months earlier, and after 
passing many abandoned huts, each one newer 
than the last, we finally arrived at midday on the 
eleventh day of march just outside of a village. 
On the advice of our Indian companions, Silva 
and I removed most of our clothes, so as not to 
be too conspicuous in the otherwise naked party — 
I at least had quite a tan — and leaving behind our 
guns and all supplies except a couple of baskets 
of roast peccary meat, which we were saving as a 
peace gesture, we sandwiched ourselves in between 
our Indian guides and made a hasty entrance into 
the communal hut. The occupants, who were 
enjoying a midday siesta, were so taken by sur- 
prise that we were able to start talking to them 
in their own language before they could grasp 
their weapons or flee. Moreover, as their interest 
almost immediately settled on the baskets of 
peccary meat, we felt secure within a few moments' 
time and sent back for the rest of our supplies. 

Once having established contact with such a 
group, I had intended to settle down or wander 
with them for several months, or until I could 
complete my studies. I was forced, however, to 
abandon this plan when, after being with them for 
a day or two, I came down with an infection in 
my eyes of such gravity that I was almost blinded. 
Fearing that this infection would spread to a point 


that might cause the loss of my sight, and since I 
carried no medicines with which to heal it, I 
decided to set out for the Franciscan Missions of 
the Guarayos, about 8 days' distance on foot, the 
nearest point at which aid could be obtained. 
Before leaving, however, I consulted with the 
chief of this new group (his name was A<5iba-e6ko 
or Long-arm) and told him that I planned to 
return and study the manner of life of his people. 
In the meantime, the Indians in our original party, 
knowing of my plan, had already convinced the 
chief and other members of his band to return 
with them to the Rio Blanco and settle down for 
a while at Tibaera, a plan which suited me per- 
fectly. Consequently, in the company of four 
Indians of this new band and Silva, I traveled on 
foot to Yaguaru, Guarayos. After about 2 weeks 
of fine treatment at the hands of the civilian 
administrator, Don Francisco Materna, and the 
equally hospitable Franciscan fathers and nuns, 
I was able to rejoin the band, and we slowly 
returned to Tibaera, arriving there on October 
11, 1941. 

Besides what studies I was able to make of this 
band while roaming with them during part of 
September and October, 1941, I continued to live 
with them at Tibaera, except for occasional 
periods of 10 days' or 2 weeks' absence for purposes 
of curing myself of one tropical malady or another 
or of refreshing my mental state, until March 
1942, when my studies were terminated by news 
that the United States had become involved in 
war 3 months previously. 

As can be readily inferred from the account 
given above of my contacts with the Siriono, they 
were studied under three different conditions: 
first, for about 4 months, while they were living at 
Casarabe under conditions of acculturation and 
forced labor; second, for about 2 months, while 
they were wandering under aboriginal conditions 
in the forest; finally, for about 6 months, while 
they were living at Tibaera, where aboriginal con- 
ditions had not appreciably changed except for the 
introduction of more agriculture and some iron 
tools. During the course of my work, I made a 
complete ethnological survey of the culture, only 
part of which can be published here, although my 
attention was focused primarily on the problem of 
the sparse and insecure food supply and its 
relation to the culture. As my knowledge of the 
language and culture increased, I was constantly 

formulating, testing, and reformulating hypotheses 
with respect to this problem. 

Since Siriono society is a functioning one, three 
fundamental methods of gathering field data were 
employed: (1) the use of informants, (2) the 
recording of observations, and (3) the conducting 
of experiments. The first two methods were 
followed throughout the course of the work. Ex- 
periments, such as the introduction of food plants 
and animals, were performed during the latter part 
of the study, although the extensive use of this 
method was limited by the termination of the 

The application of the above field methods was 
facilitated by the use of various techniques of 
which the following were the principal ones: (1) 
the use of the language of the people studied and 
(2) the participation of the ethnographer in the 
cultural life of the tribe. 

When possible, data were recorded on the spot 
in an ethnographic journal, which was supple- 
mented by a record of personal experiences while 
in the field. As the group was small, everyone 
was used as an informant, and since most of the 
activities of the Siriono center in but one hut, 
data on the behavior patterns of almost everyone 
could be recorded. No paid informants were 
used, although gifts such as bush knives and beads 
were given. No Siriono was a willing informant; 
little information was volunteered, and some was 
consciously withheld. Had it not been for the 
fact that I possessed a shotgun and medicines, 
life with the Indians would have been impossible. 
By contributing to the food supply and curing the 
sick, I became enough of an asset to them to be 
tolerated for the period of my residence. 

At the time of leaving the field (I had not 
finished my studies) I did not feel satisfied that I 
had gained a profound insight into Siriono culture. 
True, I had studied the language to the extent 
that I could carry on a fairly lively conversation 
with the Indians, but the time spent in satisfying 
my own basic needs — acquiring enough food to 
eat, avoiding the omnipresent insect pests, try- 
ing to keep a fresh shift of clothes, reducing those 
mental anxieties that accompany solitude in a 
hostile world, and obtaining sufficient rest in a 
fatiguing climate where one is active most of the 
day — often physically prevented me from keeping 
as full a record of native life as I might have kept 
had I been observing more sedentary informants 


under less trying conditions. However, if I have 
contributed something to an understanding of 
these elusive but rapidly disappearing Indians, I 
shall feel more than satisfied. 

This study would have been impossible without 
the help of many friends and various institutions. 
I am deeply indebted to the Social Science Re- 
search Council for providing the funds to carry out 
the field work; to Yale University (through the 
efforts of Dr. Cornelius Osgood) for granting me 
a Sterling Fellowship to write up the field data; 
and to the Smithsonian Institution for publica- 
tion of the manuscript. 

To my teachers at Yale University I owe a pro- 
found debt of gratitude, especially to Dr. G. P. 
Murdoch, who has been a friendly adviser since 
the beginning of the study. Dr. Murdoch spent 
many hours patiently reading, criticizing, and 
editing much of the original manuscript. While 
living with the Siriono, I also had the benefit of 
his counsel, together with that of the late Dr. 
Bronislaw Malinowski, Dr. Clark Hull, and Dr. 
John Dollard, all of whom formed an advisory 
committee at Yale. These gentlemen were largely 
responsible for developing my interest in certain 
problems of this research, and all of them sent me 
many stimulating letters of advice and criticism 
while I was in the field. None of them is responsi- 
ble for any of its defects. 

I wish to express my deepest appreciation to Dr. 
Alfred Metraux. It was he who was largely 
responsible for crystallizing my interest in the 
South American Indian and for my selection of the 
Siriono among whom to work. Dr. Metraux 
took a keen interest in this study from its incep- 
tion and gave me constant encouragement while 
I was in the field. An invaluable service was 
also rendered by Dr. Wendell C. Bennett, who 
acted in an advisory capacity when I started 
to write up my field notes, and by Dr. Clellan S. 

Ford and Dr. John W. M. Whiting, who made 
many helpful suggestions and criticisms while 
I was preparing the manuscript. To my wife, 
Laura, goes the credit for patiently typing and 
retyping the manuscript. 

While I was in Bolivia, many people helped me 
in the pursuit of my studies. I wish to express 
my thanks especially to Dr. Gustav Otero, of La 
Paz, then Minister of Education, for providing 
me with a letter of introduction to the Director 
of the Niicleo Indigenal de Casarabe; to Don 
Carlos Loayza Beltran, then Director of the 
Niicleo, and Horacio Salas, then Secretary of the 
Niicleo, for several months of friendly hospitality; 
to Senator Napole6n Solares A., of La Paz, and 
Don Adolfo Lcigue, of Trinidad, for comfortably 
sheltering me in the Casa Suarez in Trinidad, 

My life with the Indians at Tibaera was made 
possible through the valiant cooperation of Don 
Luis Silva Sanchez, of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. 
Nothing I can say will express the gratitude I 
feel for this fearless Cruzeno who accompanied 
me for more than 6 months in the field under the 
most trying conditions. Had it not been for 
Silva, in fact, my life with the Siriono under 
aboriginal conditions would have been unbearable. 

I am deeply grateful to the late Frederick Park 
Richards of El Carmen for his bounteous hos- 
pitality and for generously providing me with the 
food and the mobility without which it would 
have been impossible to carry out my studies. I 
also wish to express my thanks to Don Ren6 
Rousseau of Baures and Dr. and Mrs. Lothar 
Hepner, then of Magdalena, for many days of 
friendly hospitality and cordial companionship. 

Finally, I sbould like to express my appreciation 
to the Siriono who, for the first time in their 
history, tolerated a naive but inquisitive anthro- 
pologist on his first extended stay in the field. 


The Siriono are a group of seminomadic aborig- 
ines inhabiting an extensive tropical forest area, 
of about 200 miles square, between latitudes 13° 
and 17° S. and longitudes 63° and 65° W., in 
northern and eastern Bolivia. The name applied 
to these Indians is not of their own origin. 2 They 

' The origin of the name Siriono is unknown. Wegner (1934 b) has suggested 
that it came from the Siriono word siri, meaning "chonta palm," but there is 
no such suffix as ono in the Siriono language and the Indians are unacquainted 
with the name applied to them. 

refer to themselves simply as mbia or "people." 
But as they have been called Siriono since first 
contact, and have been thus designated in the lit- 
erature, I shall adopt the term. 

The area of Bolivia inhabited by the Siriono is 
situated in the Departments of the Beni and 
Santa Cruz. It is roughly bounded on the north 
by the island forests, lying just south of the vil- 
lages of Magdalena, Huacaraje, and Baures; on 


Map 1. — Territory occupied by the Siriono in eastern Bolivia. 



the south, by the Franciscan Missions of Guarayos; 
on the east, by the Rio San Martin; and on the 
west, by the Rio Grande and Rio Mamore. Within 
this extensive area the Siriono have lived and 
wandered in isolated pockets since the first Euro- 
pean contact with them in 1693. 

Until the 1930's, a great many Siriono were 
living in the island forests of the Mojos plains east 
of Trinidad and between the Rio Grande and Rio 
Pir&y, but now most of these have become ac- 
culturated and are living under conditions of al- 
most forced labor on cattle ranches, farms, schools, 
and missions near Trinidad, Magdalena, Baures, 
El Carmen, Guarayos, and Santa Cruz. Actually, 
almost the only unacculturated Siriono extant 
today are those occupying the forest country 
southeast of the village of El Carmen. Here, 
east of the banks of the upper Rio Blanco, is lo- 
cated a range of hills, locally known as the Cerro 
Blanco, near which wander a few groups of Siriono, 
who have as yet been unmolested by white contact. 
There may also still be some living between the 
Rio Grande and Rio Pir£y, but these have not 
been seen by me. 

The region occupied by the Siriono is character- 
ized by a tropical climate with two seasons, the 
wet and the dry. The former lasts from November 
to May; the latter from May to November. The 
annual mean temperature (no records available) 
runs around 73° P., with extremes of 50° F. during 
the cold south winds from Tierra del Fuego and 
110° F. during the heat of the average day. Dur- 
ing the rainy season the climate is very hot and 
moist, with rains on the average of every other day; 
during the dry season the extreme heat of the day 
is tempered by cooler nights and occasional cold 
wind storms from the south. These "sures," as 
they are called by the Spanish-speaking natives 
of the region, are usually accompanied by ram 
and a very sudden drop in temperature. They 
generally last about 4 days and occur at average 
intervals of 15 days during April, May, and June. 
The prevailing winds, however, are from the north. 
The average rainfall is about 100 inches per year. 

Geographically speaking, the Siriono country is 
situated in the eastern part of the vast plain, 
partly forested and partly pampa, lying between 
the Andes on the west and the Mato Grosso 
Plateau on the east. From south to north, this 
plain extends from the hill country north of the 
Gran Chaco to tbe low unexplored hills of Brazil 

which lie just north of the Rio Guapore\ Within 
this area, from the Rio Blanco west to the Rio 
Mamore, are located the extensive llanos of 
Mojos dotted with the island forests once occu- 
pied by the Siriono. East of the Rio Blanco, 
however, between the Rio Guapore on the north 
and the Franciscan Missions of Guarayos on the 
south, is a vast and dense forest plain which runs 
for hundreds of miles, and within wluch the few 
extant Siriono still wander today. This plain 
contains occasional low ranges of hills, which are 
part of the same chain that runs into Brazil on 
the north and into the Chiquitos region of Bolivia 
on the south. 

Except for the above-mentioned hills, the area 
generally is flat and only about 500 feet above sea 
level. Both the pampas and the forests are 
characterized by alturas — high lands that do not 
flood during the rainy season — and bajuras— low 
lands that do flood in the rainy season. The 
alturas are characterized by a resistant capping of 
partially decomposed lava, containing a top soil 
of coarse sand with occasional outcroppings of 
igneous rock. In elevation they lie some 75 feet 
above the bajuras, which are made up of a heavy 
clayey top soil and which are flooded during most 
of the rainy season. The alturas of the forest are 
considered to be the richest agricultural lands, 
while the bajuras of the pampa, since water 
stands in many of them the year around, are 
suitable for little more than grazing. 

The outstanding watershed features of the re- 
gion are its numerous lakes and rivers. Of the 
former there are some 20 large ones in the Siriono 
country known to me, but which have not been 
named as yet. Around all of these lakes are ex- 
tensive flood lands, and stemming from each are 
brooks or arroyos which drain into other lakes or 
into the principal rivers of the area, the Rio San 
Martin, the Rio San Joaquin, the Rio Negro, the 
Rio Blanco, Rio Itonama (San Miguel or San 
Pablo), and the Rio Machupo. All of these 
rivers flow into the Guapore (Itenez) before it 
joins the Mamore (Madeira) in its route to the 
Amazon. The southwestern part of the area 
is drained by the Rio Piray and Rio Grande, which 
also flow into the Mamore. Although the rivers 
are numerous and of good size, the area in general 
is poorly drained; from the air during the rainy 
season it has somewhat the appearance of a huge 
swamp within which there are islands of high 


ground. All of the rivers follow very capricious 
courses and are of great age. 

The environment, so far as is known, contains 
no mineral deposits of note. Gold has been re- 
ported from the region of the Cerro Blanco — 
which might be expected in view of the fact that 
gold is mined in the Chiquitos region to the south 
and has been mined in the Cerro San Sim6n to the 
north — but no deposits of significance have ever 
been worked. Stone is unknown in Mojos, 
although a poor grade of igneous rock is found 
along the Rio Itenez and the Rio Blanco. In the 
entire region there is no salt, coal, or petroleum. 

Present in the area, but not in the abundance 
that most people are wont to imagine they exist 
in tropical forests, are the most common types of 
Amazon Valley fauna. The principal mammals 
are the tapir, jaguar, puma, capybara, deer, 
peccary, paca, coati, agouti, monkey, armadillo, 
anteater, opossum, otter, and squirrel. Bats are 
a perennial pest. 

Land and waterfowl are numerous. The king 
of these birds is the harpy eagle. Likewise pres- 
ent, and in greater numbers, are the king vulture 
and the black vulture, which are almost always 
seen high in the sky gliding like planes in search 
of carrion. Game fowl are also plentiful, espe- 
cially the curassow, guan, wild duck, macaw, 
toucan, partridge, egret, cormorant, hawk, peli- 
can, plover, kingfisher, trumpeter, spoonbill, and 
parrot. On the pampa one also frequently en- 
counters the South American ostrich and varieties 
of ibis. 

Of the reptiles, alligators and tortoises are plenti- 
ful. Occasionally one sees a tegu or an iguana. 
More rarely encountered are snakes, including the 
anaconda, the fer-de-lance, the bushmaster, the 
rattler, and coral snakes. 

The rivers and lakes of the area are well stocked 
with fish. Among the principal lands are the 
palometa, the pacu, the parapatinga, the tucunare, 
several kinds of catfish, and the sting ray. Also 
present but rarely caught is the pirarucu, the 
largest bony fresh-water fish in the world. Not 
infrequently seen sporting in the lakes and rivers 
are schools of fresh-water porpoises, which may 
come so close as to upset one's canoe when travel- 
ing by water. There are few shellfish and mol- 
lusks in these inland waters. 

Only one who has traveled in the region can 
appreciate the myriad forms of insect life that 

harass the inhabitants. Since a great part of the 
country is swamp for at least 6 months of the 
year, mosquitoes of all kinds (and of which the 
area is never free) can breed unhampered, and, 
as night falls, these insects, together with gnats 
and moths, descend upon one by the thousands. 
During the day, when these pests retire to the 
swamps and the depths of the forest, their place 
is taken by innumerable varieties of deer flies 
and stinging wasps. When traveling by water 
during the day, one is also perennially pestered 
by tiny flies which settle on the uncovered parts 
of one's body by the hundreds and leave minute 
welts of blood where they sting. 

No less molesting are the ants, most of which are 
stinging varieties. The traveler in the forest soon 
learns what kinds to avoid. Especially unpleasant 
are those which inhabit the tree called palo santo, 
the sting of a few of which will leave one with a 
fever, and the tucondera, an ant about an inch in 
length whose bite causes partial paralysis for an 
hour or two. 

In addition to the ants, mosquitoes, and flies, 
there are scorpions and spiders whose bites may 
also cause partial paralysis and for whose presence 
one must be continually on the lookout, and 
sweat bees, which drive the perspiring traveler to 
a fury in trying to escape them. Some mention 
should also be made of the wood ticks, which range 
in size from a pin point to a fingernail. During 
the dry season as many as a hundred may drop 
from a disturbed leaf on to a person as he passes 
by. One of the most common pastimes of the 
Indian children, in fact, is picking off wood ticks 
from returning hunters. 

The flora, like the fauna, is typical of the 
Amazon River Valley. The forests may be char- 
acterized especially by an abundance of palms, 
among which the principal varieties are the mo- 
tacu, assaf, chonta, total, samuque, and cusi. All 
of these palms yield an edible heart and nuts or 
fruits, which constitute an important part of the 
diet of the Indians. No less important in this 
respect are other fruit trees, particularly the 
pacobilla, the coquino, the pacay, and the agual. 

Of the trees not producing fruit few are used 
by the Siriono. An exception is the ambaibo, the 
fiber of whose bark is twined into string out of 
which the hammocks and bow strings are made. 
Abundant in the area, however, are such common 
Amazon Valley trees as mahogany, conduru, cedar, 



bamboo, massaranduba, itaiiba, mapajo, bibosi, 
palo santo, ochod, and rubber. Along some of the 
rivers there are also stands of chuchio (reed), from 
which the Siriono make their arrow shafts. 

The pampa chiefly supports a grassy vegetation 
that is able to withstand extremes of wetness 
and dryness. Rows of palm are sometimes en- 
countered on the pampa, but more often than not 
these plains are barren of trees as far as the eye 
can see. 


Because of the lack of accurate instruments 
while I was in the field, I was unable to record 
exact physical measurements of the Siriono. 
Roughly speaking, however, it can be said that 
the men average about 5 feet 4 inches in height; 
the women, about 5 feet 2 inches. The cephalic 
index falls within the range of brachycephaly to 
mesocephaly; the nasal index is definitely platyr- 

Except in the cases of obvious crosses (the area 
has not lacked travelers, some of whom may have 
left their marks) skin color is very dark — almost 
negroid. The same may be said for the hair, 
which is not only jet black, but coarse and straight 
as well. The eyes are a deep brown in color; the 
Mongolian fold is marked. 

Pilosity is not pronounced but is greater than 
in most Indian groups. Some of the men have 
well developed beards, and all have a full growth 
of pubic hair, with a lesser growth of axillary hair. 
Women show marked differences with respect to 
pubic hair; some have heavy growths while others 
have none at all. 

Head hair is extremely thick on both sexes and 
grows to a very low line on the forehead. Children 
are always born with a full head of thick hair, and 

the extension of the hah line to a point very low 
on the forehead is also very striking at birth. 

Except for a very poor development of the lower 
legs, the Siriono are well-constructed physical 
specimens. OntogeneticalJy, they seem to fall 
within the normal human range. The men dem- 
onstrate a marked growth of the shoulder muscles 
as a result of pulling the bow; the women tend 
strongly to distended abdomens and pendant 
breasts, especially after childbirth. The protrud- 
ing stomachs frequently found in children are 
almost always due to hookworm. 

As a result ol the habit of picking up objects 
between the big and the second toe, most men 
and women possess well developed prehensile toes. 
One rarely sees an Indian retrieve anything from 
the ground with his hands that he is able to pick 
up with his feet. 

An unusual physical characteristic among the 
Siriono, one which might almost be called a mu- 
tation, is the small hereditary marks which char- 
acterize the backs of their ears. These marks or 
depressions in the skin, which appear at birth, 
look as if a little piece of flesh had been cut out 
here and there. If a Siriono were in doubt as to 
whether he were talking to one of his countrymen 
he would need only to look at the backs of his 
ears to identify him. These marks do not appear 
in any of the crosses I have seen. Most of the 
Indians with whom I talked, however, were only 
vaguely conscious of this characteristic and had 
no explanation for it. 

Another unusual feature of the Siriono is the 
high incidence of clubfootedness. This trait ap- 
pears in about 15 percent of the population. At 
some time in Siriono history this recessive char- 
acter has appeared and persisted because of the 
highly inbred character of the group. 


The Siriono are an anomaly in eastern Bolivia. 
Widely scattered in isolated pockets of forest 
land, with a culture strikingly backward in con- 
trast to that of their neighbors, they are probably 
a remnant of an ancient population that was ex- 
terminated, absorbed, or engulfed by more civil- 
ized invaders. Their language, however, is Tu- 
pian, elsewhere spoken by tribes of a more complex 
culture, but here represented only by themselves 
and the Guarayu-Pauserna, whose dialects are 

closely related. Traditions of friendship suggest 
that these peoples may once have been linked by 
a now r obscure bond. 

With the rest of their neighbors the Siriono 
show few affinities, cultural or linguistic. To the 
north and west live the warlike More, with whom 
they have had no contact. To the west are settled 
the Mojo, with whom they likewise have had little 
intercourse. Only in recent times have they asso- 
ciated with the Baure and Itonama, who reside to 



the north and who have been acculturated since 
the days of the Jesuits. Whenever possible they 
avoid clashes with the so-called Yanaigua, who 
wander to the south and who occasionally raid 
them, killing their men and stealing their women 

d children, 
nalt is probable that the Siriono are of Guarani 
origin, that they have gradually been pushed 
northward into the sparsely inhabited forests they 
now occupy, and that in the course of their migra- 
tions they have lost much of their original culture. 
There is no evidence, cultural or linguistic, how- 
ever, to support the theory held by Nordenskiold 
(1911, pp. 16-17) that they represent a sub- 
stratum of culture which once existed widely in 
the area they now occupy. The intangible as- 
pects of Siriono history still await reconstruction. 

Our previous knowledge of the Siriono, which 
is very scanty, dates from 1693, when they were 
first seen for a few days by Father Cyprian Bar- 
race. 3 At that time the Siriono were occupying 
the deep forests in the southern part of the same 
region which they inhabit today. After first con- 
tact, and before their expulsion in 1767, the Jesuits 
probably made several attempts to missionize 
them. At any rate, in 1765 a few Siriono were 
coaxed into the mission of Buena Vista and were 
later transferred to the mission of Santa Rosa on 
the Rio Guapore. So far as we know, no other 
attempt was made to missionize them until com- 
paratively recent times. Of these endeavors most 
have failed, not so much because of warlikeness, 
since this character has been falsely attributed to 
the Siriono, but because of then sensitivity to 
maltreatment and their adherence to nomadic life. 

In 1927, decimated by smallpox and influenza, 
a small group of Siriono was settled at the Fran- 
ciscan Mission of Santa Maria near the Rio San 
Miguel. This venture did not result in success. 
In 1941 I met many Indians in the forests between 
Tibaera and Yaguaru who had formerly been 
living in Santa Maria but who had reverted to a 
nomadic existence because of what they regarded 
as unsatisfactory conditions of life at the mission. 

8 All that is recorded of Father Barrace's contact with the Siriono is the 
following: "It was not long before the holy man discovered another nation. 
After traveling some days he found himself amidst a people called the Cirion- 
ians. The instant these barbarians perceived the Father, they took up 
their arrows and prepared to shoot both at him and at the converts in his 
company, but Father Cyprian advanced up to them with so kind an aspect 
that their arrows dropped from their hands. He made some stay with them; 
and, by visiting their various settlements, discovered another nation called 
the Guaraijanft" (Lettres edinantes . . . , 1781, vol. 8, p. 105). 

In 19.35 American evangelists founded a mission 
for the Siriono at the site of an old Mojo mound 
called Ibiato, some 60 miles east of Trinidad. 
By 1940 this mission had a population of about 
60 Indians, but it, also, could not be called a 
successful undertaking, because of lack of funds 
and trained personnel. The same may be said for 
the Bolivian Government Indian School estab- 
lished at Casarabe — 40 miles east of Trinidad — in 
1937. However noble in its purpose, the function 
of this school ultimately resulted in the personal 
exploitation of the Indians by the staff, so that, 
through maltreatment, disease, and death, the 
number of Siriono was reduced from more than 
300 in 1940 to less than 150 in 1945. 

Of the remaining Siriono who have abandoned 
aboriginal life, a great many are living today under 
patrones on cattle ranches and farms along the 
Rio Blanco, Rio Grande, Rio Mamore, and Rio 
San Miguel; others, who were captured as children 
in the forests, are now acting as servants in the 
villages of Magdalena, El Carmen, Huacaraje, and 
Baures. As to the distribution of the Siriono 
south and southwest of Guarayos, I have no in- 
formation because I never visited this area and 
the literature tells us nothing. However, the total 
population of the Siriono today is probably about 
two thousand. 

Alcide d'Orbigny, the great French scientist and 
explorer, was the first writer of any importance to 
mention the Siriono. In 1825 he had an oppor- 
tunity to study a few captured Siriono at Bibosi, 
a mission north of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Since 
D'Orbigny's remarks on the Siriono were the first 
of any significance ever to be published, I quote 
them in extenso: 

Less numerous than the Guarayos, the Siriono live in 
the heart of dark forests which separate the Rio Grande 
from the Rio Pirdy, between Santa Cruz de la Sierra and 
the Province of Moxos; from 17° to 18° south latitude and 
about 68° longitude west of Paris. The Siriono inhabit a 
large area although, according to many captives from this 
tribe whom we have seen at the mission of Bibosi, near 
Santa Cruz, their number hardly reaches 1,000 individuals. 

No historian has spoken of them; their name appears 
only in some old Jesuit letters. According to the informa- 
tion we obtained in the country, the Siriono are perhaps 
the remains of the ancient Chiriguanos, having since the 
conquest always inhabited the same forests. Attacked by 
the Inca Yupanqui about the fifteenth century, they were 
forced at the beginning of the sixteenth century to flee 
from the Guaranis of Paraguay who captured their settle- 
ments and, according to historians, annihilated them. Be 



that as it may, it is possible that the Siriono, well before 
the Chiriguanos, had come from the southeast and had 
migrated into areas far distant from the cradle of the 
Guarani nation. 

The Siriono live under the same conditions as the 
Guarayos and have about the same color, stature, and 
fine proportions, judging from the few we have seen. In 
general, their features are the same, but they have a more 
savage appearance, a fearful and cold expression which is 
never encountered among the Guarayos. Since they have 
the custom of depilating their hair we cannot say whether 
they have as bushy a beard as the Guarayos. 

We have been assured that their language is Guarani, 
but corrupted to the extent that they cannot understand 
the Chiriguanos perfectly. As to their personality, it 
differs essentially from that of the Guarayos; they are so 
savage and hold so strongly to their primitive independence 
that they have never wanted to have contact with Chris- 
tians. No one has been able to approach them unarmed. 
Their forebears were gentle and affable, but these are 
less communicative. They live in scattered tribes which 
wander deep into the most impenetrable forests and live 
only by hunting. They build rude huts formed of boughs 
and know no other comforts of life; everything indicates 
that they live in the most savage state. They have no 
other industry than the making of weapons. These con- 
sist of bows eight feet long and arrows even longer, which 
they most often use seated, both the feet and hands being 
employed to shoot with great force; thus they are obliged 
to hunt only big game. Both sexes go entirely nude, with 
no clothing to burden them. They do not paint their 
bodies and wear no ornaments. On their trips they do 
not use canoes. If they have a river to cross they cut 
liana which they attach to a tree or to stakes placed for 
that purpose on the banks of the river. They wind the 
liana around tree trunks resting in the water, thus forming 
a kind of bridge which the women cling to in crossing with 
their children. Whenever they get the opportunity they 
attack the canoes of the Moxos and kill the rowers to 
obtain axes or other tools. This is all we have learned 
about this tribe, without doubt the most savage of the 
nation [D'Orbigny, 1839, trans., pp. 341-344]. 

Jose Cardus was the next writer of any sig- 
nificance to deal with the Siriono. In his book 
on the Franciscan Missions of eastern Bolivia 
(Cardus, 1886, pp. 279-284) he devoted about 5 
pages to a description of the condition and culture 
of the Siriono in the latter part of the nineteenth 
century. Following Cardus, Nordenskiold (1911, 
pp. 16-17) interviewed two Siriono on his 1908-9 
expedition to eastern Bolivia, and on the strength 
of this published a 2-page article about them 
which, however, contains very scanty data. In 
1910TheodorHerzog (1910, pp. 136-138, 194-200) 
published a short account of the geography of the 
area which also embodies a few notes on the 
Indians. In 1928 Arthur Radwan (1929, pp. 

291-296) wrote a brief description of Siriono 
culture which deals primarily with their contacts 
with the Franciscan fathers at Santa Maria. 

Some years ago, considerable stir was caused in 
the anthropological world by the publication of a 
series of articles and books by Richard Wegner 
(192S, pp. 369-384; 1931; 1932, pp. 321-340; 
1934 b, pp. 2-34) on a month's journey to the 
Siriono country — to the Siriono between the Rio 
Piray and Rio Grande and to those of the Mission 
of Santa Maria. In his various articles and books 
Wegner claimed to have discovered a primitive 
group of Siriono which he called Qurungu'a, who 
possessed no language but whistling. Although 
this statement is patently absurd — I, too, have 
heen with groups of Siriono who were uncommuni- 
cative for long periods of time — it should be 
pointed out that Wegner's observations on the 
material culture, although not outstanding, are 
fairly accurate. However, his statements about 
language (or its lack), group classification, re- 
ligion, and other subjects do not check with my 
findings, nor with those of the Franciscan monk, 
Ansehn Schermair (1934, pp. 519-521), who has 
written a brief article refuting the claims made by 
Wegner. My own data substantially agree with 
those, of Padre Schermair, in so far as he has 
published them. For many years this Franciscan 
father has been collecting a vocabulary of the 
Siriono language, but his works have never been 
published. They will be awaited with great 

In 1937 Stig Ryden spent 3 weeks collecting 
ethnological specimens and interviewing Indians 
at Casarabe. His results have been recently 
published (Ryden, 1941). Although the descrip- 
tions of his material collections are accurate 
enough, Ryden's statements about the non- 
material aspects of culture are mostly inaccurate 
because he was probably deceived by staff mem- 
bers of the school at Casarabe into recording false 
information about the Indians. Moreover, lack- 
ing adequate primary data, Ryden padded his 
work with irrelevant speculations and comparisons 
which are largely meaningless for the reconstruc- 
tion of Siriono history. 

Finally, it should be mentioned that most of 
the extant data on the Siriono were admirably 
summed up by Alfred Metraux in 1942 (Metraux, 
1942, pp. 110-114). 




Technologically speaking, the Siriono can be 
classified with the most culturally backward 
peoples of the world. They subsist with a bare 
minimum of material apparatus. Being semi- 
nomadic, they do not burden themselves with 
material objects that might hamper mobility. 
In fact, apart from the hammocks they sleep in 
and the weapons and tools they hunt and gather 
with, they rarely carry anything with them. 
What few other material objects they make and 
use are generally hastily fashioned at the site of 
occupancy. A brief account of the principal 
technological processes and manufactured articles, 
with their uses, follows. 


Fire making is a lost art among the Siriono. 
I was told by my older informants that fire 
(tdta) used to be made by twirling a stick between 
the hands, but not once did I see it generated in 
this fashion. Fire is carried from camp to camp 
in a brand consisting of a spadix of a palm. This 
spongelike wood holds fire for long periods of time. 
When the band is traveling, at least one woman 
from every extended family carries fire along. I 
have even seen women swimming rivers with a 
firebrand, holding it above the water in one hand 
while paddling with the other. 

In the hut every family has its own fire on the 
ground by the side of the hammock. Dried leaves 
of motacu pahn are used to bring a fire to a blaze. 
Any dried or rotten wood serves as firewood 
(ndea). The logs are placed on the ground like 
the spokes of a wheel, the fire being made in the 
part corresponding to the hub. As the ends of 
the logs burn down they are pushed inward. 
Cooking pots are placed directly on the logs. 
No hearths are used. 


The only native "chemical" industry is the 
making of glue from beeswax (iriti). This prod- 
uct is used extensively in arrow making. The 
crude beeswax collected from the hive is put in 
a pot, mixed with water, and brought to a boil. 
While it is cooking, the dirt and other impurities 
are removed. The wax is then cooled and co- 
agulated into balls about the size of a baseball. 

When desired for use, the wax is heated and 
smeared over the parts to be glued. It is gen- 
erally but not always the men who prepare and 
refine beeswax. 


String and rope are twined by the women from 
the inner bark of the ambaibo tree. The tree is 
usually cut down by the men, who remove the 
outer bark in strips, pull the inner bark from them, 
and carry this back to camp. It is then thoroughly 
chewed by the women and placed on a stick over 
the fire to dry. The resulting shreds are twined 
into bowstrings, hammock strings, hammock 
ropes, and baby slings. 

One of the most time-consuming activities of the 
women is the spinning of cotton thread (ninju). 
The spindle is made by the men from ehonta palm. 
It is planed into shape with a mussel shell. It is 
more or less circular in cross section and about a 
half inch in diameter at the middle; it is pointed 
at both ends and is about 3 feet long. The whorl 
consists of a disk of wood or baked clay which is 
put on the spindle from the bottom end. 

The women prepare the cotton for spinning. 
The balls of cotton are first collected from the 
plant and then pulled apart and flattened into 
paper-thin sheets about 6 inches square from 
which the impurities are picked out. The cotton is 
then ready for spinning. Dunng this process the 
woman is seated, usually in the hammock. The 
squares of unspun cotton rest on one thigh (a 
distaff is not employed) and the spindle on the 
other, with the whorl end resting on the ground at 
an angle of about 60°. The woman pulls a thread- 
like line of cotton from one of her squares, attaches 
it to the spindle, and spins it into thread by rolling 
the spindle on the thigh from the hip to the knee. 
As the thread accumulates, it is rolled around the 
bottom of the spindle. Cotton thread is employed 
extensively in arrow making, for wrist guards, in 
twining baby slings, and in decorating the body on 
festive occasions. It is generally coated with 
uruku, a red paint made from the seeds of Bixa 

The hammock {kiza) is the principal article of 
furniture in every Siriono hut. Hammocks are 
made by the women from string twined from bark 
fibers of the ambaibo tree and are very durable, 



lasting several years with the roughest treatment. 
In making a hammock a woman first digs two 
holes in the ground with her digging stick, as 
far apart as the length of the hammock is to be. 
Two posts about 5 or 6 feet long are then planted 
in the holes. The woman ties one end of her ball 
of string, previously twined, to the bottom of the 
post on her right, passes the string around the 
post to her left and back on the far side around 
the post on her right, and so on, continuing these 
winds, which are about one-fourth of an inch apart, 
up the poles until she calculates that the desired 
width of the hammock has been reached. The 
resulting warp strings form two series of parallel 
lines, one at the front and the other at the back 
of the posts. 

The weft strings are made of the same material 
as the warp strings, but are finer twined than the 
latter. They are applied from bottom to top. 
The weaver places a weft string around the bottom 
warp string at the front of the posts and midway 
between them. She holds the warp string with 
her left hand and pulls both ends of the weft 
string tightly with the other hand to form two 
weft strands of equal length. She then takes the 
under strand in her left hand, crosses it over the 
upper strand which is held in her right hand, and 
then transfers each strand to the opposite hand, 
after which she pulls the twist tightly around the 
warp string. She then takes the first back warp 
string, pulls it over until it rests on the twist 
formed around the first front warp string, and 
gives the weft strands a second twist. She con- 
tinues alternately to gather up the warp strings 
from front to back until all of them are held in 
place by a weft string, the ends of which are 
finally tied into a square knot at the top of the 
hammock. Usually about a dozen weft strings, 
placed about 6 inches apart, suffice for a hammock. 
After they have been applied, ambaibo bark fiber 
is bound around the hammock about 4 inches 
from each end, and it is then ready for hanging. 

Hammocks vary in size, but one shared by hus- 
band and wife will be about 6 feet in length and 
about 4 feet in width. It usually takes a woman 
a full day to make a hammock, once the string 
has been prepared. Hammocks are almost al- 
ways carried along on expeditions or hunting trips, 
but in case a person gets caught overnight in the 
forest without his hammock, a rude one is some- 

times fashioned of liana in the manner described 

Baby slings (erenda) are twined by the women 
in exactly the same way as hammocks, the only 
difference being that they are more often made 
of cotton than of bark-fiber string and that all the 
front warp strings are held together by one series 
of weft strings while those at the back are held 
together by another. During pregnancy a woman 
usually twines a new sling so as to have it ready 
when her infant is born, for a new sling is made 
for every child. Slings are about 3 feet long and 
2 feet wide. 

Baskets (indku) are plain and are made by the 
techniques of checkerwork and twilling. They 
may be classified into two types: those hastily 
constructed in the forest for carrying in game, 
wild fruits, or other products, and somewhat 
better ones woven for the storing of articles in the 
house. The former are always made of the green 
leaves of the motacii palm (by either the men or 
the women) and are thrown away as soon as their 
purpose has been served; the latter are more 
carefully woven (almost always by the women) of 
the ripe leaves of the heart of the motacii palm, 
and are a more or less permanent feature of every 
Siriono hut. Special baskets are made for stor- 
ing such things as feather ornaments, pipes, 
cotton and bark-fiber string, necklaces, calabashes, 
beeswax, and feathers for arrows and ornaments. 
When the band is on the march, the various small 
baskets are placed in one large basket and are thus 
transported to the next camping spot. 

In addition to baskets, women occasionally 
weave mats from the heart leaves of the motacii 
palm. These are used to sit on, to roll out, coils 
of clay for pot making, and to wrap the bodies of 
the dead. Fire fans are also woven by the women. 
The Siriono do not manufacture any type of 
barkcloth, nor do they use hides for anything but 
food. Feathers are applied to arrows and are used 
to make ornaments for decorating the hair, but 
featherwork as an art is not practiced. 


The pottery industry is poorly developed, but 
rude, plain pots (nio) are occasionally made by the 
women. Since more food is broiled or roasted 
than boiled or steamed, a family rarely possesses 
more than one pot. 



The banks of rivers serve as the principal source 
of clay. It is dug out by the women with the 
digging stick and carried home in baskets. In 
making a pot, the lumps of clay are first mixed 
with water and with carbonized seeds of the 
motacu palm which constitute the temper. The 
resulting mixture is made into balls, from which 
coils for the sides of the pot are rolled out, and 
into disks, from which the base of the pot may 
be formed. 

The base is molded, either out of a disk of clay 
(in case the bottom of the pot is to be rounded) 
or out of a small coil (in case it is to be more 
pointed). It is molded entirely with the fingers, 
and when finished is placed in a slight depression 
in the ground into which ashes have been put to 
serve as a cushion. 

The rest of the pot is constructed by the coiling 
technique. After the base has been molded, the 
coils are rolled out one by one on a mat of motacu 
palm and applied in turn. In making a pot a 
woman works the coils of clay together with her 
fingers, on which she frequently spits. In addi- 
tion, she employs the convex surface of a mussel 
shell called hitai to smooth out the clay. After 
one or two coils have been added to the base of 
the pot, it is generally left standing to dry for a 
day before others are added. In this way the pot 
does not lose shape by having too much weight 
at the top when the clay is wet. Thus several 
days commonly elapse before a pot is complete. 
Once finished, it is left to dry in the shade for 
about 2 days before it is baked. 

Pots are baked in the hot ashes of an open fire. 
As each section of a pot hardens, it is turned 
slightly so as to bake another. To main tarn an 
even heat, sometimes a pot is covered with green 
boughs and chips while it is baking. Since the 
method of baking is very crude, pots are very 
fragile and must be handled with great care. 
They vary in size from about 5 to 10 inches in 
diameter at the top and from about 8 to 14 inches 
in height. 

Pipes (kedkwa), like pots, are made from a mix- 
ture of clay and carbonized seeds of the motacu 
palm. The entire pipe, including the stem, is 
molded from a single disk of clay, the fingers alone 
being used. As a woman molds the bowl she 
leaves at the bottom a small lump of clay from 
which the stem is later fashioned. After finishing 

the bowl, she fashions this lump into a conelike 
shape and then inserts a palm straw into the bowl 
to make the hole for the stem. She then molds 
the lump of clay bit by bit around the straw until 
the stem of the pipe is of the desired length, leaving 
a little decorative projection at the bottom of the 
bowl which is called eka or teat. 

After a pipe has been molded it is dried in the 
open air for a couple of days and then baked in 
the coals of a fire as is a pot. In baking, the straw 
in the stem is burned out, leaving a hole through 
which to suck the pipe. 

Circular spindle whorls are sometimes made by 
women from small disks of clay hardened in the 
open fire as a pipe or a pot is. Before they are 
baked they are fitted on to the spindle so that the 
hole in the whorl will be of proper size. 


Calabashes (yaboki) are prepared as drinking 
vessels in the following manner. A round hole 
about an inch in diameter is cut in the top of a 
gourd with the gouging tool. A small stick is then 
inserted, and the seeds are loosened and shaken 
out. The calabash is then washed on the inside 
and dried slowly hi the fire, water being squirted 
on the outside from time to time to keep it from 
burning. Calabashes, though used primarily as 
drinking vessels, are also employed for making 
mead and for storing tobacco, feather ornaments, 
and animal teeth. 

When calabashes are scarce, hollow sections of 
bamboo are sometimes used as drinking vessels, to 
store wild honey, and to make mead. They are 
simply cut to the length desired. 

Mortars (mbua) are sometimes hollowed out of 
fallen logs that lie near camp, but sections of a 
log are never cut especially for this purpose; that 
is, a section of a log is not cut, set up, and hol- 
lowed out on the end for use as a mortar. To 
make a mortar, a hole is made in the side of a 
fallen trunk with fire, the charcoal being chipped 
out with a digging stick, which also serves as the 
pestle. Mortars are used principally for grinding 
corn for food and mead, and for grinding burned 
motacu seeds for temper for pots. They are never 
carried from camp to camp. 

No spoons, plates, bowls, or bags are manufac- 
tured by the Siriono. Pots and baskets have 
already been described. 




The digging stick (siri) — the only agricultural 
tool — is made by the men from chonta palm. 
After a section of wood has been removed from 
the tree, it is planed to the desired shape with a 
mollusk shell called urukwa. The digging stick is 
about 3 feet in length, 3 inches in width, and about 
an inch in thickness. The bottom end is sharp- 
ened so as to make it a more effective tool. The 
digging stick is used principally in planting and 
tilling, in grinding corn, in digging out clay for 
pots, and in extracting palm cabbage and honey. 

The Siriono construct a gouging tool by hafting 
an incisor tooth of an agouti or paca onto a femur 
of a howler monkey. This tool is employed 
principally to gouge out the nock in the reinforcing 
plug which is inserted in the feathered end of the 
arrow. In using the tool the handle is grasped in 
the right hand with the tooth down. The plug 
is held in the left hand, and the tool is worked back 
and forth over it until a groove large enough to 
hold the bowstring is made. This tool is also 
employed in making holes in the root ends of the 
animal teeth from which necklaces are strung. 

Some mention should also be made of the use of 
a mollusk shell, called urukwa, and a mussel shell, 
called hitai, as tools. The former is used by the 
men as a plane in making digging sticks, spindles, 
and bows, while the latter is employed by the 
women to smooth out the clay when making pots. 
The mandible (with teeth) of the palometa fish 
also serves as a tool, being employed to sever the 
aftershafts of the feathers glued on arrows. Any 
piece of bamboo serves for a knife, but no work is 
done in bone, horn, shell, stone, or metal. Euro- 
pean axes and machetes have been introduced to 
those bands which have had contact, but under 
aboriginal conditions European tools are rarely 


The bow (ngidd) and arrow are the only weapons 
manufactured or used by the Siriono. Every 
adult male possesses a bow and arrows which he 
makes himself. So important are these weapons 
that when not hunting, a man, if busy, is most 
frequently observed making a new arrow or re- 
pairing an old one broken on the last hunt. A 
man's bow and arrows, in fact, are his inseparable 
companions. When he is asleep in the house they 
rest upright against the frame pole to which his 

hammock is tied, and when he is walking in the 
forest he is invariably seen with his bow and a 
bundle of arrows over his right or left shoulder, 
points facing ahead, in quest of game. 

The wood from which the bows are made is a 
variety of chonta palm, called siri. This tree, 
when mature, is about 12 inches in diameter and 
has a layer about 2 inches thick of very hard, 
black wood just underneath the bark. It is from 
this layer that the bow is constructed. Although 
the material is relatively abundant in the environ- 
ment, before making a new bow a hunter will 
search for some time to locate a chonta tree which 
has the appearance of being of proper maturity and 
hardness. It is a rare tree that has just the right 
qualities. The wood must be firm and resilient 
and must withstand the. maximum pulling strength 
of the hunter without breaking. Frequently I 
have seen a man spend a couple of days in the 
construction of a bow only to have it snap on the 
first pull. 

After a suitable tree has been sighted it is 
felled. I have never seen this done other than 
with an ax, but one of my oldest informants told 
me that he had known chonta palms to be felled 
by building a fire against the trunk until the hard 
layer had been burned through and then pushing 
the tree over. When a tree has been felled, a 
section of the circumference of the trunk, about 4 
inches wide and as long as the hunter wants his 
bow to be, is cut out. Other smaller pieces of 
chonta may also be removed at this time, as this 
material is likewise indispensable in the con- 
struction of arrows. 

Once the material has been taken out, work on 
the construction of the bow begins almost at once, 
before the wood dries out. Bows are plain and 
are made of a single stave. The making of a bow 
is a laborious process, as it is fashioned almost 
entirely by using mollusk shells, called urukwa, to 
plane the wood down. A small hole is first made 
in the surface of one of these mollusk shells. The 
edges around the hole are then worked downward 
with the grain, and the section of wood is gradually 
planed to the desired shape. If a man possesses a 
machete, he may first use this to give the bow its 
approximate shape by roughly tapering the horns, 
but the finishing is always done with the shell to 
avert the danger of splitting the wood. In 
planing down a bow it is held securely on the 
ground between the big and the second toe. 



In cross section a bow is roughly oval in shape, 
being about 2 inches in diameter in the middle and 
gradually tapered to a cross section of about a 
quarter of an inch at the horns. The inner side 
of the hard layer of the tree forms the belly of the 
bow, while the bark side forms its back. After a 
bow has been worked to the desired shape, a small 
amount of bark fiber from the ambaibo tree is 
wrapped around each horn to keep the string from 
slipping toward the limbs. The horns of the bow 
are not notched to hold the string. 

The bowstring is twined by the women of am- 
baibo bark fiber. It is applied as follows. A 
permanent loop, which will just fit over one horn 
of the bow, is tied in one end of the string. A half 
hitch on the other end of the string is placed over 
the opposite horn and the string is gradually 
tightened by pulling on the hitch while bending 
the bow. This is done by resting what will be 
the top horn of the bow on the ground at an angle 
and grasping the other horn in the right hand; 
the left hand is thus left free to manipulate the 
string which is to be tightened. The inside of the 
left knee is then placed in the center of the belly 
of the bow, the. foot resting on the back further 
down. By exerting pressure between the right 
arm, the knee, and the foot, the bow is bent to 
the desired degree, and the string is pulled tight 
by the left hand. To keep it tight a second half 
hitch is thrown over the first, above the fiber 
lashing on the horn. The remainder of the bow- 
string is pulled up the bow to just below the center 
and wound back around it and over the section 
of the string which runs up the limb. The end of 
the string is secured by placing it under a couple 
of the turns and pulling it tight. The bow is then 
ready for drawing. 

If a hunter is right-handed, as are most of the 
Siriono, the bow is drawn in the following manner. 
It is grasped in the middle with the left hand. 
Because of its great length, the top horn is tilted 
at an angle of about 30° to the right of perpendicu- 
lar, so that the bottom horn does not rest on the 
ground. The hunter spaces his feet from 2 to 3 
feet apart, the left foot, of course, always being 
placed forward. 

The secondary release is employed in drawing 
the bow. The arrow is held between the thumb 
and first finger of the right hand; the remaining 
fingers assist in drawing the string. The left arm 
is held rigid, and the arrow shaft slides between 

the thumb and first finger on the side of the bow 
to the left of the belly. The bow is drawn to a 
maximum distance allowed by the arms. As the 
bowstring passes his head, the hunter sights along 
the arrow to aim. He withdraws his head just 
before releasing the arrow, and the string flies by 
his face. He always wears a wrist guard of cotton 
string to avoid damaging his skin. 

The stance indicated above is essentially the 
same whether one is shooting in a tree, straight 
ahead, or from a tree into water. If a hunter is 
left-handed, the procedure of drawing the bow is 
exactly the same, but reversed. 

A new bow is always drawn gradually at first 
and is sometimes left for one night with the string 
taut before it is used, so as to give the wood a 
chance to expand gradually. A bow which is in 
service, however, is always unstrung following 
each day's hunt. 

After a new bow is made it needs little attention, 
except for a change of string, until it breaks or has 
lost its resiliency. The life of a sturdy bow may 
be a year or more, depending upon how often it 
is used. A hunter does not make spare bows. 
Only when his bow breaks or when it has been 
used so much that it has lost its life does he make 
a new one. Occasionally, when a hunter notices 
that his bow is drying out, he places it in water 
for several nights until its proper resiliency is 

Bows vary in size, depending upon the hunter, 
but all are long, perhaps the longest in the world. 
On the average they range between 7 and 9 feet 
in length, although I have seen one that measured 
9 feet 7 inches. The Indians themselves have no 
explanation of why they use such a long bow, other 
than to say they were taught to do so by their 
fathers. They assert, however, that a short bow is 
no good. The explanation is probably to be 
sought in the manner in which the Siriono use the 
bow in shooting. It is bent to the maximum 
distance allowed by the arms before the arrow is 
released. If a short bow were used, it is likely 
that the wood could not withstand the strain 
of the pull or that the hunter would not have 
sufficient strength to bend it to the desired degree. 

Although arrows, like bows, vary in size, only 
two general types are made: one, called uba, with 
a chonta head containing a lashed barb; the 
other, called tdkwa, with a lanceolate bamboo head 
but containing no barb. The former type is used 



almost exclusively for shooting smaller game in the 
trees, while the bamboo-headed arrow is reserved 
for killing the larger game on the ground. Chonta- 
headed arrows average from 7 to 9 feet in length; 
bamboo-headed arrows, from S to 10 feet. The 
arrows used by the Siriono are probably longer 
than those used by any other known people in 
the world. 

Except in the case of an emergency or a shortage 
of material, arrow shafts (ekua) are always 
made of reed {Gynerium sagittatum). The plant- 
is found in abundance along the banks of the 
rivers and at some points inland, but is only 
suitable for use in arrow making for about 2 
months during the rainy season — in March and in 
April. Consequently, a whole year's supply of 
not less than 30 reeds is usually harvested during 
these months. If a man runs out of reeds before 
the next season comes around, a species of bamboo 
may be substituted, but this material is considered 
inferior since it makes an inaccurate arrow. 

Like bow making, arrow making is exclusively 
a task of the men, and, there being no specialists in 
this occupation, each man makes his own arrows. 
The reeds are first cut near the butt end and then 
cured. This is usually done by drying them 
gradually in the sun for about 4 days, but it may 
be hastened by the use of fire. Before an arrow is 
made, the shaft must be straight and dry. While 
the reeds are curing, a man prepares the other 
materials needed for the construction of an arrow: 
feathers, chonta or bamboo heads, beeswax, etc. 
Consequently, when the shafts are straight and 
dry, all materials are ready for the construction 
of an arrow. 

A chonta-headed arrow is made in the following 
way. A shank of chonta wood about 18 inches in 
length, pointed at both ends, and of a diameter so 
as just to fit the hollow distal end of the reed, is 
fashioned with a mollusk shell called iirukwa. 
About one-half of this shank is coated with pre- 
pared beeswax called iriti and inserted up the 
hollow shaft for about 6 inches. The part of the 
shaft containing the shank is then loosely bound 
with ambaibo bark fiber and left to dry. While 
it is drying, a small conical plug (edfa), likewise 
coated with hot beeswax, is inserted in the proxi- 
mal end of the reed. This plug contains the nock 
of the arrow. After both have dried, the chonta 
shank and the plug containing the shaft are bound 
securely in place. This is done with fine cotton 

string which has been previously coated with 
paint made from ground seeds of uruku (Bixa 
orellana) mixed with saliva. To bind the shank, 
the arrow maker removes the bark fiber and 
begins to wind cotton string around the shaft 
about 4 or 5 inches from the. distal end, continuing 
his winds downward until about 3 inches of the 
protruding shank have been covered; to bind the 
plug, he begins to wind cotton string around the 
shaft from the proximal end, continuing his winds 
about 3 or 4 inches down the shaft. The ends 
of the string used for lashing are coated with 
beeswax to hold them in place. The arrow is 
now ready for feathering. For this purpose only 
two kinds of feathers (e'o) are used, except in case 
of emergency. All chonta-headed arrows are 
feathered with the large wing or quill feathers of 
the curassow, while bamboo-headed arrows are 
feathered with the large wing feathers of the harpy 
eagle. Informants were emphatic in stating that 
these are the only feathers ever used, and it was 
rare that I saw an arrow feathered otherwise. 
Occasionally, however, the feathers of one of the 
smaller varieties of guan are used. 

Feathering is done by the Peruvian cemented 
technique. Before a feather is put on, however, 
about 5 inches of the arrow shaft, below the lashing 
which secures the plug containing the nock, is 
coated with hot beeswax. Then the aftershafts 
of a feather are removed (the mandible, contain- 
ing teeth, of the palometa fish is used for this pur- 
pose) and placed over the soft beeswax along the 
shaft and in line with the nock. They are then 
lashed by winding at intervals between the barbs 
of the feather a very fine thread taken from a 
grasslike plant growing near rivers, called dicibi. 
Nowadays, when available, manufactured cotton 
thread is considered ideal for this purpose. After 
the feathers have been glued and lashed to the 
arrow shaft, the beeswax is smoothed out by rub- 
bing a wet thumbnail over it. 

A single barb (erdsi), about one-half inch in 
length, is lashed onto the chonta shank of an arrow 
about half an inch from the point. Barbs are 
generally made from the hard stays which grow 
in the soft wood in the center of a palm tree which 
the Siriono call hindoera, although chonta wood 
is also used sometimes. The barb is flattened on 
one end and lashed securely to the shank with fine 
cotton string coated with beeswax. 

Bamboo-headed arrows are made in almost 



exactly the same way as chonta-headed arrows 
except that the bamboo head is lashed onto a 
chonta shank that is flattened on the distal end. 
Nowadays, bamboo arrowheads are cut out with 
bush knives, but formerly they were shaped with 
mollusk shells. They are glued to the flattened 
chonta shank with beeswax and lashed tightly to 
it with cotton string covered with uruku paint. 

After an arrow has been finished it should have 
a certain twang when set in vibration. This is 
tested as follows. The maker grasps the arrow 
in about the middle of the shaft with his left hand 
and lifts it up to the height of his eye. While 
sighting along the shaft he grasps the nock end of 
the arrow between the thumb and first finger of 
his right hand and bends the shaft slightly toward 
his face. He then releases his fingers with a snap 
and the arrow, if a good one, vibrates with a 
twnngy sound. An arrow which does not produce 
this sound when set in vibration is thought to be 
a poor one. 

Arrows are always retrieved and are frequently 
damaged on the hunt. If the shaft of an arrow 
is broken, a cross section is cut off evenly on both 
sides of the break, and a peneillike rod of chonta 
palm wood, about 6 inches long and covered with 
beeswax, is inserted about 3 inches up the hollow 
shaft of one part of the broken reed. The pro- 
truding piece of the chonta rod is then inserted 
into the hollow shaft of the other part of the broken 
reed until both parts of the reed meet. To com- 
plete the job of mending, cotton string is wound 
around the shaft for about 3 inches over the break. 

Some mention should also be made of the use of 
pieces of wood as weapons. Clubs are never 
manufactured but chunks of wood cut or picked 
up at random sometimes serve as clubs to kill 
wounded animals and to pound with. 


To judge from the type of house constructed, 
the problem of shelter among the Siriono is not a 
serious one. Little time is spent in making a 
dwelling, nor when built does it comfortably pro- 
tect them either from the inclemencies of the 
weather or from the ubiquitous insect pests that 
continually harass them. The house, whether 
shared by the entire band or hastily erected by a 
single family or hunting party on the march, is 
always the same general type, although varying 

in size and degree of completeness. It consists of 
a roughly rectangular frame of poles against 
which are set, at an angle but not bound together, 
the long leaves of the motacu palm. The house is 
thus but an elaboration of the most simple type 
of lean-to or wind screen. 

No one person supervises the construction of a 
house. Before building one, a site is selected by 
general agreement. It must be near water and 
relatively free of underbrush but at the same time 
should contain a few sturdy trees to serve as up- 
right supports or columns upon which to lash the 
frame. Care is taken to select a spot which con- 
tains no dead or rotten trees that may fall over 
during occupancy. However, trees are never 
cut down to clear a house site; rather, the house 
is built around them. 

After a site has been selected, the men go in 
quest of poles for the frame. Nowadays these 
are cut from nearby trees with machetes, but 
formerly they were doubtless hacked off with the 
digging stick. No particular type of wood is 
specified for the construction of the frame, al- 
though frequent use is made of soft chonta palm 
trunk and of heavy bamboo, which is abundant 
in certain parts of the area. The sturdiness and 
size of the poles for the frame depend upon the 
number of people who will occupy the house. 
They must be of sufficient strength to withstand 
the weight of all the people in the house, since 
their hammocks and gear are tied to the poles of 
the frame as well as to the trees onto which they 
are lashed. If the distance between the trees to 
be used seems too great to bear the weight that 
the poles will have to support when they are 
lashed between them, additional forked trunks 
are sunk upright in the ground by digging them 
in with the digging stick to add further support 
to the frame. 

The poles, when cut, are lashed to the outer side 
of the trees and in the forks of the upright columns 
with lianas, which are wound several times around 
the poles and the supports until they are secure. 
This liana lashing is fastened with half hitches. 
The entire frame is bound to the trees and to 
the upright supports at a height of about 5 feet 
above the ground. 

The next and final operation in house building 
consists merely in setting against the frame, at 
an angle of about 60° from the ground, several 
layers of the green leaves of the motacu palm. 



These leaves, which form both the walls and the 
roof, are placed with the butt end on the ground. 
As they are about 15 feet long, they bend rather 
sharply at the top, so that when they have been 
placed around the whole frame, the house has a 
somewhat conical appearance. Often the leaves 
are not long enough to meet at the top, thus leaving 
a gap through which the smoke from the fires 
between every two hammocks escapes, and through 
which the rain enters freely during a storm. The 
house contains no doors or windows; one merely 
works one's way in through the palm leaves. 

Nuclear families on a hunting and gathering 
expedition, when they may be absent from the 
band for from a few days to several weeks and are 
rather constantly on the march, take even less 
trouble in the construction of a nightly shelter. 
All they build is a rude shelter constructed like 
one side of the above-described house. The 
Siriono country is dotted with the remains of shel- 
ters erected by hunting parties that have stopped 
there for a night or two in their wanderings. 

Having roamed over an extensive part of the 
area where the Siriono are accustomed to travel 
throughout the year, I can report that these are 
the only types of shelters that I ever saw built. 
When it rains, a shelter is improved to the extent 
that a few large leaves of patujii — a wild plant 
resembling the banana plant but not producing 
fruit — may be placed between the layers of mota- 
cu leaves and over the hammock where an individ- 
ual sleeps, but such improvisations are rarely 
adequate to give one a dry night of rest if the 
rain is more than a sprinkle. On occasions 
when it rains heavily — and this happens on the 
average about 2 or 3 nights per week during the 
rainy season — the Siriono grumblingly takes down 
his hammock and squats by the fire, which is 
always carefully protected from the rain by leaves 
of the patujii, until the downpour passes. Con- 
sequently, he undergoes many a sleepless night 
during the year. 

The building of a house entails no magical 
procedure, and it is almost always exclusively a 
task of the men. Arriving at a new camp site, 
the women are usuaUy immediately occupied in 
tending their children, unpacking their gear, 
carrying water, and kindling a fire for cooking 
what victuals the day's march and hunt may have 
yielded. Meanwhile the men work cooperatively 
in cutting and lashing the poles for the frame. 

The number of leaves placed against the frame, 
however, is largely an individual matter ; if a man 
makes no move to cover that part of the frame 
where he will sleep with his family, no one else 
will bring leaves to cover his section of the house 
for him. At best, rarely more than two layers of 
leaves are placed over the frame. Moreover, a 
new house is never built larger than a size just 
sufficient to accommodate the people present at 
the time of building. If families are away from 
the band at the time, additional space is not pro- 
vided to accommodate them, and when they return 
they themselves will have to add a section to the 
main house. 

The average house sheltering a band of from 60 
to 80 people is approximately 60 feet long, 25 feet 
wide, 15 feet high at the center, and about 5 feet 
high at the frame. It can be constructed in about 
an hour's time. Seldom is more than 15 minutes 
or a half an hour spent in the construction of a 
lean-to for the night. 

Otber types of buildings, such as cook houses, 
granaries, and club houses, are not built. A 
Siriono settlement consists of but a single hut, 
constructed in the manner described above. 

The determination of why the Siriono maintain 
such an apathetic attitude toward house building 
and sheltering themselves from the unpleasant 
aspects of their environment, such as rain, cold 
winds, and insect pests, presents an interesting 
psychological problem. When first traveling with 
them, I was puzzled at why they even took the 
trouble to place a few leaves over their hammocks, 
since these seemed to offer them no visible pro- 
tection. On closer scrutiny, however, I found 
that the few leaves placed over their hammocks 
did protect them from twigs and small branches 
which are continually falling from tropical trees 
in the night. Moreover, placing a few leaves 
over the hammock protects them from the rays 
of the moon, which are believed gradually to 
cause blindness if they fall directly on a sleeper. 
Other than this, the shelters of the Siriono seem 
to offer them little protection. 

The house is but sparsely furnished. The 
hammock is the principal article of furniture. 
Hammocks are suspended across the width of the 
house with bark-fiber ropes tied to the frame poles 
and columns. Household articles such as cala- 
bashes and baskets are suspended with bark-fiber 
string from the midribs of the palm leaves that 



form the walls and roof. Pots are left on the dirt 
floor. Houses are almost never cleaned. When 
they become unbearable new ones are built. 


No clothing of any kind is manufactured or 
worn by the Siriono. The nearest approach to 
clothing — a custom probably adopted from the 
Brazilian Indians — I found among the eastern- 
most Siriono. Here I observed some young boys, 
and a few young men of puberty age, wearing a 
twined G string of bark fiber wound tightly around 
the waist; under this the foreskin of the penis is 
tucked so as to lengthen it. Where clothes have 
been introduced, however, they are greatly sought 
after, not so much because of modesty 4 but be- 
cause clothes both adorn them and protect them 
to some extent from the ubiquitous insect pests 
that continually harass them. That they are 
mostly desired for adornment, however, is attested 
by the fact that no matter how many clothes they 
possess they always sleep stark naked at night 
when the insects are most abundant. Moreover, 
if a woman does possess a dress, before sitting 
down she always lifts it up and sits on her bare 
skin in preference to soiling her garment. 

Even though they wear no clothing, the Siriono 
are rarely seen without some type of embellish- 
ment. Most commonly employed to decorate the 
body is a paint made from the seeds of the uruku 
plant, which is extensively used for ornamental 
purposes by many South American Indians. By 
spitting on the hands and mixing the saliva with 
a few uruku seeds a bright red paint is produced. 
This paint, which is never applied in any type of 
design, is rubbed especially on the face, but on 
some occasions the entire body is covered with it. 
Its function is both sacred and secular. Although 
its magical significance is of prime importance on 
such occasions as a birth or death, and in warding 
off illness, the body is covered with uruku for 
utilitarian reasons, namely, as a protection from 
insect bites and cold weather when mosquitoes 
are thick or when a cold south wind blows. Like 
the channel swimmer who shuts out the cold by 

l In this connection, about the only thing a Siriono man is modest about is 
displaying the glans of his penis, and when standing around he is constantly 
tugging at the foreskin so as to lengthen it. Women likewise display little 
modesty, but when sitting on the ground they always cover the vulva with 
one heel. 

covering his body with Vaseline, the Siriono does 
so by covering his body with uruku. 

Next in importance to uruku for decorative 
purposes are various bright-colored feathers (So) 
which are glued into the hair with prepared bees- 
wax (iriti). Like uruku, feathers are extensively 
employed to decorate the hair on festive occasions. 
It is important to note that the same types of 
feathers are always used no matter what the oc- 
casion may be : a birth, a death, a drinking feast, 
or a bloodletting rite. Those employed come 
from the toucan (red feathers from the back, 
yellow feathers from the breast, and white feathers 
from under the wings), from the curassow (downy 
white breast feathers), and from the harpy eagle 
(also the downy white breast feathers). Although 
there are many other brightly colored birds in the 
area — the macaw, for instance — the types men- 
tioned above were the only ones I ever saw used 
for decorative purposes. The underlying reasons 
for this, other than that the ancestors had followed 
the same pattern, I was never able to ascertain. 

It is the women who pluck the feathers, prepare 
them into tufts, and glue them into the hair. In 
the case of the toucan, when the bird is killed the 
breast skin is always removed with the feathers, 
which are later plucked for decoration. In the 
case of the other birds mentioned, the desirable 
feathers are plucked after the dead animal has 
been brought to the house. The tufts are made 
by first binding 8 or 10 of the down feathers to- 
gether at the base with a piece of cotton string or 
bark fiber and then covering the binding with 
prepared beeswax. The tufts are glued to the 
hair by first softening the beeswax with a firebrand. 
In addition to tufts of feathers, bunches of 
quills of the peccary, porcupine, and paca are 
sometimes glued into the hair of young boys so 
as to make them good hunters of these animals 
when they grow up. 

Necklaces (ewi) are worn both for adornment 
and for magical reasons. Animal teeth are es- 
pecially favored in necklace making. When a 
coati is killed and after it has been cooked and 
eaten, the eye teeth are extracted with the fingers 
and small holes are gouged out in the roots of the 
teeth by the men, who employ for this purpose an 
eye tooth of a rat, a squirrel, or a paca hafted to 
the humerus of a howler monkey. After a suffi- 
cient number of teeth (no specified number) have 
been obtained, they are strung on a piece of cotton 



or bark -fiber string by the women. The penis 
bone of the coati or the gristle from the back of 
the ankle of the harpy eagle is sometimes added as 
a charm to these necklaces, which are worn es- 
pecially by parents during the couvade period 
following birth. 

Less often employed for making necklaces are 
the eye teeth of the spider monkey, which are 
drilled in the manner described above. Necklaces 
are sometimes made from the molar teeth of the 
peccary and the coati, but in such cases holes are 
not drilled in the teeth; they are merely tied to 
string which is placed around the teeth between 
the roots. 

The hard black seeds of the chonta palm and 
toenails of the tortoise are sometimes drilled in 
the manner described above and are used for mak- 
ing necklaces. The base of the quill feathers of 
various birds, especially the parrot, the macaw, 
the harpy eagle, and the toucan, are also similarly 
employed. In the case of the toucan the wind- 
pipe may be dried, cut into sections, and strung 
into necklaces. Other products employed for 
making necklaces include small sections of young 
chuchio (the reed employed in arrow making), 
old hair wrapped in cotton string, sections of 
umbilical cord (also wrapped in cotton string and 
covered with beeswax), and even parts of dis- 
carded pipe stems. 

Age, sex, and status differences do not affect the 
wearing of necklaces, although, as we shall later 
see, certain ones seem to be worn only on specific, 

Some mention should also be made of the wide- 
spread use of cotton string covered with uruku 
for magical and decorative purposes. This is 
wound around the wrists, the arms (above the 
elbows), the ankles, the legs (below the knees), 
and the neck of the father and mother after the 
birth of a child, and is worn for approximately a 
month thereafter. No rings, ear, nose, or lip 
ornaments are ever worn. 

The only type of body mutilation found among 
the Siriono results from the practice of ceremonial 
bloodletting, which will be discussed more fully 
later. Suffice it to say here that the adult men 
and women are stabbed in the arms (the men on 
the inside of the arms from the wrist to the elbow 
and the women on the outside of the arms from 
the elbow to the shoulder) with the dorsal spine 
of the sting ray. When the wounds from these 

stabbings heal, there remain a series of decorative 
scars, which are both tribal marks and signs of 
adulthood. Although bloodletting occurs on other 
occasions, the scratches made in the skin then are 
usually so superficial as to leave no scars. 

No age, sex, or status differences are manifested 
in hair styles. The only exception occurs in the 
case of young girls (yukwdki), who have their 
heads entirely shaved before undergoing the rites 
to make them eligible for sexual intercourse and 
marriage. Young children receive then 1 first 
haircut in the tribal style the day after they are 

Hair is cut by the women with a piece of 
bamboo. There are no specialists who perform 
this task. A woman usually cuts her husband's 
and her children's hair, and her own is cut by a 
sister or a cowife. The hair is cut to a length of 
about a quarter of an inch all over the head. 
That over the forehead is pulled out, or shaved 
with a bamboo knife, to a very high semicircle. 
The ears are left exposed. In the back, the hair 
is cut straight across at about the level of the 
lobe of the ear. Haircuts are given about once 
a month, although the forehead and eyebrows 
may be depilated as often as every 10 days. 
For depilation the woman covers the tip of her 
index finger with beeswax and grasps the hairs 
between her thumb and index finger. After the 
hair has been removed, the entire forehead is 
covered with uruku, which acts as a healing balm. 
In the case of young children, to promote the 
future growth of the child's hair, a few feathers 
of the harpy eagle or the curassow may be glued 
to the back of the hair after it has been cut. 

The disposition of hair clippings varies with age. 
In the case of young children the hair is saved, 
wrapped in cotton string, covered with hot bees- 
wax, and tied around the neck of the child or his 
mother. The purpose of this is to promote the 
future growth of the child's hair and also to 
prevent the child from becoming sick in the head. 
In the case of adults the hair is thrown away 
deep in the bush, although I also observed in 
Casarabe that it was sometimes buried in the 
ground just outside of the house. Informants 
told me that leaving old hair around was apt to 
cause headache. Nail clippings receive no special 

Beards are more rarely cut than the hair, but 
occasionally they are shaved off completely to 



promote the growth of an even longer beard. 
Mothers sometimes glue a few beard hairs of the 
paca into their boys' hair to insure that their 
infant sons will possess a heavy beard like a paca 
when they become adults. Hair from the beard, 
like that from the head, is discarded in the bush 
or buried. The same may be said of axillary hair, 
which is removed when present. On the whole, 
however, the Siriono possess little body hair, and 
most of what they do have is rubbed off by the 
brush of the forest. Pubic hair is never removed. 


The native concept of property may best be 
expressed by saying that the environment exists 
for the exploitation of all members of the band, 
and that the society recognizes the rights of own- 
ership only so far as this exploitation is pursued. 
In other words, the preserve of the Siriono is 
communally owned, but its products become 
individual property only when they are hunted, 
collected, or used. 

Actually, little real property exists. What does 
exist is limited to the immediate possession, by a 
family, of a garden plot, by virtue of having 
cleared and planted it, or to the right to collect 
from certain fruit trees, by virtue of having dis- 
covered them. When a man comes across a new 
fruit tree, he may mark it with a notch; this will 
give him the right to exploit it (for one season at 
least) while it is bearing fruit. Such rights, how- 
ever, do not extend to hunting grounds, fishing 
sites, stands of arrow reeds, uruku trees, or cala- 
bash trees, all of which are regarded as public 
property. The house is both communally built 
and communally owned. 

Since the material apparatus is sparse, holdings 
in movable property are few. As regards all of 
these possessions, however, individual rights of 
ownership are recognized and respected. Thus a 
man is owner of his bows and arrows, the animals 
which he kills, the maize or manioc which he 
raises; a woman is the owner of her pots, cala- 

bashes, baskets, necklaces, feather ornaments — 
in fact, all of the things which she herself makes 
or collects. In some possessions, such as pipes 
and hammocks, which are used by both the hus- 
band and the wife, ownership, of course, may be 
regarded as joint. 

The sparsity of material culture limits transac- 
tions in property largely to exchanges in food. 
However, these are not carried out on the basis 
of barter, or buying or selling. Such notions are 
foreign to the Siriono. Nevertheless, the giving 
of food does involve an obligation on the part of 
the recipient to return food to the donor at some 
future date. For instance, if a man hunts a 
tapir, which he is forbidden to eat for magical 
reasons, part of the meat may be distributed to 
members of his wife's family. The next tune the 
recipients hunt tapir they will be expected to re- 
turn meat to the original giver. This type of 
exchange is about the only property transaction 
that takes place in Siriono society. Marriages 
and divorces, for example, are not accompanied 
by an exchange of property. Borrowing or lend- 
ing almost never occurs; one's neighbor rarely has 
anything that it would be useful to borrow. 

As a consequence of not accumulating proper- 
ty — a notion foreign to the Siriono — the problem 
of inheritance is greatly simplified. Actually, it 
hardly exists, for when a person dies most of the 
things with which he has had intimate contact 
are placed with the body or thrown away. Thus 
one's pots, calabashes, pipes, and feather orna- 
ments are left at the site where the body is aban- 
doned. Exceptions include hammocks, necklaces, 
cotton strings, and sometimes a man's arrows, 
particularly if he has been a good hunter. These 
may pass to his son or to his brother, while the 
few possessions of a woman usually pass to a 
sister or a cowife, though they may also be in- 
herited by a daughter. Thus inheritance of 
possessions may be either patrilineal or matrilineal, 
depending upon the objects and persons involved. 
Succession to chieftainship, however, follows 
patrilineal lines. 



In contrast to most other aboriginal peoples of 
the area in which they live, the Siriono are semi- 
nomadic forest dwellers who live more by hunting, 

fishing, and gathering than they do by farming. 
All of their economic activities, of course, are 
governed to a considerable extent by the seasonal 
changes which take place throughout the year. 
During the periodic inundations which last from 



December to May, when the whole area, ex'cept 
for small islands of high ground , becomes one huge 
swamp, the mobility of the group is considerably 
impaired. Consequently, at the. beginning of this 
cycle a stretch of high ground containing an 
abundance of palm trees and wild fruits is selected 
for occupation during the flood months, and the 
wild fruits are harvested as they mature. Such 
hunting as is possible (considerable game is 
attracted by wild fruits) is done, but fishing 
becomes a negligible activity, since the waters 
become turbid. The diet at this season of the 
year consists principally of wild fruit and vegetable 
food, and the band is a fairly cohesive social unit. 
In sharp contrast to the sedentary mode of life 
during the rainy season is its nomadic character 
during the dry season. After the crops have been 
harvested in April and May and after the waters 
have begun to recede in June, the entire band may 

start out on a hunting and gathering expedition, 
wandering from lake to lake, from stream to 
stream, exhausting the wild life of each as it 
travels. Consequently, meat, fish, and wild honey 
become more prominent in the diet at this season 
of the year, and the band becomes a loose social 

When the next rainy season arrives, the band 
may return to the same spot occupied the year 
before or it may move on to another. This 
depends largely on the quantity of food available. 
Having wandered for years over the same large 
area, the Siriono possess many sites containing old 
gardens, uruku trees, calabash trees, etc., to which 
they may return from time to time in their 

Table 1 is a calendar of the chief economic 
activities carried out and the principal foods eaten 
throughout the year. 

Table 1. — Calendar of chief economic activities and principal foods eaten 



Foods eaten 










Hunting and collecting; little or no agricultural work; group usually 

sedentary because of the rainy season. 
Hunting and collecting; harvest of maize planted in November; harvest of 

wild fruits begins; group sedentary because of rainy season. 

Hunting and collecting; no agricultural work; principal harvest of wild 

fruits; group sedentary because of rainy season. 
Hunting and collecting; group still sedentary; harvest of wild fruits almost 

over; little or no agricultural work. 
Hunting and collecting; harvest of chuchio begins; making of new arrows; 

group begins to be more nomadic; possible replanting of maize. 
Hunting and collecting; extended families become more nomadic; hunting 

expeditions; fishing begins; harvest of chuchio terminated; almost no 

agricultural work; band as a whole may decide to migrate to other spots 

for better hunting and fishing. 
Usually on the march; hunting and fishing; no agricultural work 

Usually on the march; may return to eat camotes and fresh maize planted 
in May; hunting, fishing, and collecting chief economic activities; drink- 
ing parties occur because of abundance of wild honey. 

Usually on the march; hunting, fishing, and collecting; many drinking 

Hunting and collecting; clearing small plots for planting; during this 
month the group usually selects a site to weather the rainy season. 

Hunting and collecting; most of the planting occurs in this month; maize, 
manioc, cotton, and tobacco are sown; since agricultural activities are 
limited, they interfere little with hunting and collecting; fishing stops 
because the waters begin to rise and become turbid. 

Rainy season begins in full force; no agricultural work; hunting and col- 
lecting are the only important activities; wild fruits have not yet begun 
to ripen. 

Game; palm cabbage; motacu fruits. 

Game; palm cabbage; motacu fruits; papaya; maize; some 

manioc; coquino; aguai; hindoera; gargatea; pacay; 

Game; palm cabbage; motacu fruits; papaya; maize; some 

manioc; coquino; aguai; hindoera; gargatea; pacay. 
Game; palm cabbage; motacu fruits; papaya; coquino; 

aguai; little maize and manioc. 
Game; palm cabbage; motacu fruits; little manioc; maize 

and papaya. 
Game; palm cabb3ge: motacu fruits; little manioc; maize 

and papaya; some fish and wild honey. 

Game and fish; palm cabbage; wild honey; motacu fruits; 

cusi nuts; some camotes. 
Game and fish; palm cabbage; wild honey; camotes; maize; 

cusi nuts; motacu fruits; also a fruit called ndia. 

Game and fish; palm cabbage; wild bee honey; motacu 
fruits; camotes; little manioc or maize; turtle eggs. 

Game; fish; palm cabbage; motacu fruits; some camotes; 
little manioc, maize, or papaya. 

Game; little fish; palm cabbage; motacu fruits; few other 
vegetable products. 

Game; palm cabbage; motacu fruits; few other vegetable 




No other activity of the men can match the 
importance of hunting. The temper of the Siriono 
camp, in fact, can be readily gaged by the supply 
of game that is daily being bagged by the hunters ; 
there is rarely ever equaled that joy which follows 
a successful chase or that discontent which fol- 
lows an unsuccessful one. 

Around every Siriono hut there are trails, 
scarcely visible and marked only by an occasional 
bent leaf or twig, spreading out in all directions. 
On any morning just before daybreak it is a 
common sight to see the naked hunters, bows and 
arrows over their shoulders and perhaps with a 
piece of roast manioc in their hands, silently 
fading into the forest in all directions in quest of 
game. Some go alone; others in pairs; still others 
(as many as six or seven) may join together to go 
in quest of a troop of peccaries or a band of spider 

Besides his bow, each hunter takes with him 
about eight arrows — five with a barbed chonta 
head to hunt small tree game and three with a 
bamboo head to hunt larger ground game. As he 
leaves the hut the hunter walks silently but rapidly 
through the forest so as to arrive early at those 
spots such as water holes most likely to contain 
game, and as he goes along he searches the 
branches above him and the forest around him for 
a stirring leaf or a snapping twig that might indi- 
cate the presence of game. 

Almost all animals of the environment except 
snakes are hunted, and various techniques are 
employed to bag game, depending upon the type 
of animal one encounters. Since the bow and 
arrow must be depended upon exclusively, and 
since the quarry must be close to be shot with such 
a cumbersome weapon, the Siriono is a master 
at both stalking and imitation. He can imitate to 
perfection the whistle of a bird, of a monkey, of a 
tapir, or the call of a peccary. There is not an 
animal sound of the forest, in fact, which he does 
not know and is not able to skillfully imitate. In 
hunting guan, for instance, he whistles like one 
of the young; if there is a guan within hearing, it 
is brought within range of the bow by this means. 
1 have frequently seen guan brought to a branch 
within 10 feet of a hunter, and on one occasion, 
during the mating season, I saw one brought so 

close by this method that it was actually caught 
alive in the hunter's hand. 

So as not to disturb his quarry, a hunter re- 
frains from talking when in quest of game and 
communicates with his companions largely by 
whistling. This specialized language has become 
so higldy developed among the Siriono as to en- 
able hunters to carry on limited conversations, 
and it is often used to advantage. On one oc- 
casion, when I was hunting with two Indians 
along the banks of a brook, my companion and I, 
who were on one side, suddenly heard a whistle 
from the opposite bank, along which the third 
member of our party was walking. We stopped 
immediately and my companion answered the 
whistle, to which the other replied in turn. After 
several moments of whistling conversation my 
companion selected an arrow, put it in his bow, 
walked a few feet ahead, aimed into a tree, and 
released the arrow. Down fell a curassow, much 
to my surprise. What had occurred was that our 
comrade on the other side of the brook could see 
the bird, which was not visible to us, but it was 
out of range of his bow. As it was possible for us 
to get in range, he indicated by whistling the loca- 
tion of the bird, so that it was relatively easy for 
my companion to walk to the spot and shoot it. 

Other types of cooperation between hunters 
have developed because of unusual circumstances 
encountered in the jungle. The area, for instance, 
contains many tall trees in which game is some- 
times situated at such a height that it is out of 
range of the bow. If a hunter is alone he will 
usually be forced to pass up such game, but if a 
companion is with him they may cooperate in 
making an effort to secure it. This is done in the 
following manner. One of the hunters slings his 
taut bow over his back and climbs up the tree 
to a branch that is within range of the animal. 
If the trunk is of such thickness as to prevent 
him from climbing directly up the tree, a sapling 
is cut and bound to the trunk with liana. He 
then climbs this sapling until the branches of the 
tree can be reached. Once in position to shoot 
the animal, he signals to his companion below, 
who puts an arrow into his bow and releases it 
with just enough force to reach the hunter aloft. 
The latter, as the arrow goes by, grabs it, puts it 
in his bow, and shoots the animal. This is by 
no means a common method of hunting and is 
practiced only in case the animal in the tree is one 



not likely to move, such as a female howler 
monkey whose male companion has been killed. 
However, I witnessed it several times while I was 
living with the Siriono, and in each instance the 
game was bagged. 

The animals most frequently bagged are 
monkeys, of which there are several kinds in the 
area. Most abundant is a species of capuchin 
monkey, called keN. If a hunter comes back 
from the chase with anything, he is most likely 
to have one or two keN in his catch. These 
monkeys travel in groups as large as a hundred, 
and, as there are always many young ones in the 
band, their whistling can be heard from a great 
distance away. Upon hearing these sounds, the 
hunter stops and whistles like the monke3 r s (I 
was never aide to distinguish the whistle of a 
monkey from that of a hunter), gradually bringing 
them closer to his post. By hiding behind a tree, 
he is usually able to shoot one or two before the 
rest of the band sees him, becomes frightened, and 
begins to disperse. When this occurs, he selects 
one of the larger monkeys and gives chase, trying 
to drive it into the open where it can be shot. 
If in flight the monkey hides momentarily in the 
thick foliage above, the hunter tries to rout it out 
by tugging on one of the lianas which grow to the 
ground from almost every tree. Getting into 
position to shoot one of these monkeys, however, 
is not easy, as they move from tree to tree with 
great rapidity and stop only momentarily. More- 
over, the underbrush below is extremely dense 
with lianas and spines, so that a hunter's progress 
is often impeded to such an extent that he loses 
his prey. 

Next in abundance to the keN are the long- 
haired, black spider monkeys called eriibaf. These 
are more highly prized than the keN because of 
their size (10 to 20 pounds). Spider monkeys are 
especially valued during the rainy season, because 
at this time they are very fat from eating the wild 
fruits that mature in February, March, and April. 
Sometimes these monkeys have as much as a half- 
inch of fat on their bellies. 

Spider monkeys are chased and bagged in the 
same manner as the above-mentioned keN but are 
less difficult to shoot because of their greater size 
and sluggishness. They often await their fate, 
shaking the branches of a tree at the hunter. 
Nevertheless, they may cause the hunter a con- 
siderable amount of trouble, since they generally 

break his arrow between their hands when dying 
and, once dead, they are able to hang to a branch 
with their strong prehensile tails for as long as 24 
hours, thus forcing the hunter to climb the tree to 
retrieve them. 

A third type of monkey that contributes con- 
siderably to the food supply is the howler or tendi. 
Unlike the spider monkey, the howler does not 
travel in large bands but in polygynous family 
groups that vary in size from a male and two fe- 
males to a male and six females. When hunting 
the howler, an Indian usually tries to bag the male 
first; the females will not then move from the 
area, and he can hunt them down one by one. 
After the male has been killed, the females often 
cluster together high in a tree, from which they do 
not move, and the aforementioned method of 
cooperative hunting can be applied to kill them. 

In addition to the types of monkeys already 
mentioned, there are three smaller varieties that 
the Siriono occasionally hunt but which do not 
contribute much to the food supply. These are 
a small owl monkey, called yikina, and two 
varieties of squirrel monkeys, called gineti and 
ngi. They are hunted in the same manner as 
the others, being chased from tree to tree until 
they are bagged. 

Next in importance to monkeys in supplying 
meat for the camp are the numerous land and 
waterfowl of the area. These include, chiefly, 
several varieties of guan (ydku), curassow (bitoN), 
macaw {kirlnde), toucan {yisddi), parrot (yikdna), 
duck (yei), cormorant imiNgwa), partridge 
(ndmbu), hawk (ngkia), egret (gwarisi), and vul- 
ture (uriibu). On the pampa there are other 
large birds, such as the South American ostrich 
(ngiddcibaia), but as the Siriono with whom I 
lived were strictly a forest people, these were 
never hunted. All birds are shot with the bow 
and a barbed, chonta-headed arrow. They are 
usually brought into range by careful stalking or 
by imitating their calls. 

The pursuit of the collared peccary (tai) and 
the white-lipped peccary (cidsu) constitutes an 
important part of the chase and contributes much 
to the meat supply. The former, which are 
usually observed foraging in the forest in groups 
of from 2 to 10, are quite abundant, and the 
latter, which are sometimes found in bands of as 
many as 200, are not infrequently encountered. 

Collared peccaries are usually heard rooting 



nearby as one goes through the forest. Upon 
discovering them the hunter prepares his bow for 
the kill, imitates their call, and shoots them as 
they come within range, aiming for the heart or 
the neck. 

White-lipped peccaries can be discovered a 
great distance away, both by smell and sound. 
Moreover, they are one of the few animals that the 
Siriono spend days in tracking down and are also 
one of the few that are sometimes hunted coop- 
eratively. As band peccaries are accustomed to 
follow a leader, and to root up abnost everything 
as they go along, to track them down is not a 
difficult task. 

To originate a cooperative peccary hunt some 
hunter must previously have sighted fresh tracks 
relatively near camp, say within a half day's 
distance on foot. On the day following the report, 
the hunters set out, using the person who dis- 
covered the trail as a guide. They take with 
them only their bamboo-headed arrows (tdkwa), 
as only these are effective in killing such a large 
animal. Arriving at the trail, they follow it 
until they can hear the noise of the peccaries, 
which is not unlike the sound of distant thunder— 
the reason perhaps that the Siriono have asso- 
ciated thunder with the falling of peccaries to the 

After the band has been discovered, the hunting 
party stops and lays plans for the kill. If the 
chief is present — he is always one of the best 
hunters- — other members of the party usually 
accept his method of attack. A band of peccaries 
is always approached against the wind, so that the 
hunters will not be discovered. If it is possible to 
come up from behind the band, this is considered 
the best strategy. In any case, an attempt is 
always made to circle the band so as to kill as 
many peccaries as possible. Some hunters ap- 
proach from the rear ; others from either side. The 
signal for the kill is given by the hunter first 
getting in position to shoot : the arrows then begin 
to fly from all directions. Each hunter usually 
picks a fat peccary for his first arrow. If possible, 
the leader of the band is also killed, not only 
because it is generally the biggest boar but be- 
cause the band will thus have greater difficulty 
re-forming and the other peccaries will be easier to 

On a chase of this kind a hunter usually uses up 
all the arrows he has brought with him, but if 

there is still game around this does not deter him 
from continuing the hunt. He may continue the 
attack with a club picked up at random or cut in 
the forest. I have even seen hunters catch young 
peccaries with their hands and bash their heads 
on the nearest tree or drown them in a water hole 
that happened to be at the site of the kill. 

After the band has dispersed and the principal 
kill has been made, strays are run down and slain. 
It is only after no more animals are available that 
the slaughter is stopped. The hunters then meet 
at the place where the kill began, dragging all the 
game to that spot. If the day is yet young, i. e., 
before noon, if the kill is such that it can be carried 
home, and if the camp is not far away, they may 
set out for the house at once. Usually, however, 
they decide to remain overnight in the forest and 
roast the meat. If it is late in the day, they spend 
most of the night preparing and roasting the game, 
and on the following day, after an all night feed, 
carry the roasted meat to the camp in rude 
motacii palm baskets. In case raw game must 
be left in the forest for a night, the viscera are 
removed, and the carcasses, covered with palm 
leaves, are tied in a tree to safeguard them from 
ants and jaguars. On the following day the 
women are sent to bring in the game. 

The Siriono who wander in those regions west 
of the Rio Blanco, where there is open country, 
frequently encounter the large pampa deer 
(kiikwandusu). Those who inhabit the forest 
country east of the Rio Blanco most often meet a 
smaller variety of forest deer (kiikwa). 

When in quest of the pampa deer, the hunter 
tries to reach the pampa as early in the day as 
possible. On arriving at the open country, he 
may sight his quarry a great distance away. 
Deer are relatively easy to stalk, as the tall grass 
of the pampa (frequently higher than one's head), 
as well as the ant hills, provide an almost perfect 
blind. The naked hunter must proceed cautiously, 
however, else the knifelike blades of some of the 
pampa grasses will cut his skin to ribbons. In 
killing deer the hunter always aims for the heart. 

The tapir (eakwantui) is the largest animal in the 
area, and since its carcass yields the greatest 
amount of meat of any animal, it is considered 
the greatest prize of the chase. Because of the 
undeveloped hunting techniques of the Siriono, 
and because the tapir does most of its feeding at 
night, when the hunter is fast asleep, it is rarely 



bagged. OnJy four were killed by tbe Indians at 
Tibaera during my residence of about 8 months, 
although many more were shot. 

Even at daybreak, when the hunter is alert, 
the tapir has already retired to sleep in the spiny, 
liana-covered underbrush into which it is difficult 
for the hunter to penetrate, and since he possesses 
no dogs to rout his prey, he rarely runs across one 
in his wanderings. Moreover, a tapir is hard to 
kill and, when discovered and shot, frequently 
escapes into a swamp where the pursuer dares not 

The few tapirs that are killed are usually shot 
while they are asleep. They are often detected 
by a short shrill whistle which they make at this 
time. They may also sometimes be located by the 
call of a small bird, known to the Siriono as 
eakwantui ica, which accompanies the tapir and 
lives largely by eating the wood ticks from its 
body. The call of this bird is a clear sign to the 
Indian that there is a tapir not far away. Once 
the sleeping animal is discovered, the hunter 
sneaks up quietly to within a few feet and shoots 
it in the heart with a lanceolate bamboo-headed 
arrow. If a feeding tapir is discovered in the day- 
time, the hunter conceals himself in the brush near- 
by and whistles like another tapir until the animal 
comes within range of his bow. He then aims for 
the heart and having released his arrow gives 
rapid chase until the bleeding animal falls. 

The alligator (yikdri ekwdsv) is one animal 
which is truly abundant in the area, particularly 
during the dry season when the waters are low 
and when they lie on the sand banks to sun 
themselves or come further inland to lay their eggs. 

Alligators are hunted both with a bow and 
arrow and with a club. Arrows are employed when 
alligators are in the water with their heads up for 
air; clubs, when they are lying in the open sunning 
themselves. When shooting an alligator, which is 
difficult to kill, the hunter aims either for the eye 
or for the region just back of the shoulder. After 
being hit and threshing around for some time in 
the water, the animal usually comes to the surface 
and can then be retrieved. If not, the hunter may 
wade in, taking with him an arrow to locate the 
beast by feeling around on the bottom. Once 
the animal is located, the hunter goes under water, 
grasps it by the tail, and slowly drags it ashore. 
As these reptiles sometimes live for an hour or two 
after they are shot, considerable time is allowed 

to elapse before any attempt is made to retrieve 
them. In case they are encountered in the open 
they are clubbed on the head until dead. 

Newborn alligators are sometimes used by 
hunters to attract the mother. When a young 
alligator is caught it begins to cry for its mother, 
who, upon hearing it, comes running out of the 
water to retrieve it. The hunter, waiting on 
shore, strikes the mother over the head with a 
club as she comes up the bank. By imitating a 
young alligator a hunter can often produce the 
same result. 

Alligator hunting is regarded as a precarious 
business, and the hunter takes care so as not to 
get bitten. While I was living at Tibaera an 
Indian named Eabokdndu (Father-of-Long-Hair), 
while fishing at the edge of a lake, was surprised 
by an alligator and bitten on the upper leg. He 
saved his life by jabbing the point of an arrow 
into the alligator's eye, but was left with a nasty 
wound that did not heal over for several months. 

Coatis are generally killed in the trees with 
barbed chonta-headed arrows. When a troop is 
discovered, a hunter is rarely able to kill more 
than one before the rest of the band takes to the 
ground in flight. When this happens, the hunter 
drops his bow and arrows and gives chase through 
the brush. I have seen coatis overtaken in this 
fashion. They are seized by the tail and their 
heads bashed on the ground, or they are hit with 
a club picked up at random. Not infrequently a 
hunter is bitten or gashed by the sharp eye teeth 
of the coati while making his catch. 

The jaguar (ydkwa) and the puma are rarely 
encountered in the forest. They are mostly found 
on the pampa. Only one large jaguar and three 
small ones were killed by the Indians while I was 
living with them. Jaguars are shot, either in the 
trees or on the ground, with bamboo-headed 

The giant anteater (antandisa), being a slow 
animal, is generally killed with a club. Only in 
case one is discovered in a tree is it shot with a 
bow and arrow. The same may be said for the 
smaller variety (antanbvfa). The honey bear 
when encountered tapping a hive of wild bee 
honey is shot with the bow and arrow. 

Armadillos (tdtu) are usually routed from their 
holes with a long flexible midrib of motacu palm, 
and are clubbed as they come out. If caught out- 
side their holes they are shot in the head with an 



arrow. The same methods are used with the paca 
(titimi). The agouti (taiku) is more generally 
shot while feeding on wild fruits which have 
dropped from the trees in the forest. 

Most hunting is done individually or in groups 
of two or three. Game is carried in from the 
forest on the hunter's back. The animals are 
bound together with liana and suspended from 
the hunter's head with a tumpline of liana. Each 
hunter carries in his own game. 


Unlike many of his South American Indian 
contemporaries, who developed or adopted the 
fishhook, traps, nets, or poisoning as methods of 
catching fish, the Siriono does all his fishing with 
the bow and arrow. His less developed tech- 
niques consequently shut him out from a large 
supply of fish that is found in the area, and has 
limited fishing largely to the dry season, the 
months of July, August, September, and October, 
when the rivers and lakes are low and the waters 
are clear. At this time there is an abundance of 
fish in the low waters around the rapids, and these 
are caught either by shooting them with the bow 
and a barbed chonta-headed arrow or by stabbing 
them with an arrow. 

Although I have seen some 15 edible varieties 
of tropical fish, the Siriono rarely attempt to catch 
more than four: catfish, bagre, bentones, and yeyu. 
Occasionally, one of the larger fishes, such as the 
pacu, is shot when feeding on chonta fruits that 
have dropped into a river or stream, but this is 

Around the edge of lakes, the usual method of 
catching fish is to wait in the overhanging branches 
of a wild fruit tree that is shedding fruit on which 
the fish are feeding. As the fish come up to eat 
the fruits, which either fall naturally into the 
water or are thrown in by the fisherman, they are 
shot with the barbed chonta-headed arrow and 
pinned to the bottom. Since the arrows are very 
long and the branches are low, the hunter to re- 
trieve his catch merely reaches down and ex- 
tracts the arrow, the fish being held by the barb. 
With patience and by occasionally changing his 
position a man can shoot as many as a dozen 
fish m a day by this method. 

Another source of fish, and perhaps the principal 
one, are the small ponds and streams which fill 
up with water and fish in the rainy season but 

which dry up in the dry season and offer the fish 
no means of escape. When the waters are drying, 
the fisherman walks through a pond catching the 
fish with his hands, stabbing them with an arrow, 
or hitting them on the head with a stick. 

Although ahnost all of the Siriono today possess 
fishhooks, I rarely saw them actually used. Since 
they have no watercraft of any kind, it is impos- 
sible for them to reach the deep water where a 
fishhook would be of special advantage to them. 
Moreover, since they are not a river people, and 
since most of their camps are inland, fishing is not 
an important activity nor does it contribute much 
to the food supply. 


In the total economy, collecting ranks next to 
hunting in importance. This activity is partici- 
pated in by both the men and women, and since 
much of the collecting is done by nuclear families, 
children get an early education in spotting and 
gathering edible products from the forest. Al- 
though women and children do considerable col- 
lecting while the men are off hunting in the forest, 
when it involves tree climbing they are always 
accompanied by the men. Now that iron tools 
have been introduced, many of the wild fruit trees 
of the area are being destroyed, because the natives 
find it easier to cut them down than to climb them 
when harvesting fruits. 

Of all of the products collected, palm cabbage 
(kisia) is the most important. Practically all of 
the palms of the region yield an edible heart, but 
motacu is the most abundant and one of the 
easiest from which to extract the kisia (the tree 
is always cut down). It provides a constant 
source of vegetable food. This palm, moreover, 
produces a fruit (yukudi) about the size of an egg, 
which grows in bunches, and which also forms an 
important staple in the diet the year around. 
When pickings are especially slim these two prod- 
ucts, although not very nourishing, can always 
be relied upon to tide the Indians over until a 
more substantial diet can be obtained. As we 
shaU see later, the importance of the palm cabbage 
is reflected in the magical aspect of the culture, 
its collection by women being occasionally pre- 
ceded by a magical bloodletting rite. 

Other palms, besides yielding a comestible heart 
the year around, also bear fruits which mature in 
a more seasonal cycle than the motacu. During 



February, March, and April, the small red fruits 
of the chonta palm (siriba) are collected. At this 
season of the year the Indians also devote them- 
selves to gathering the fruit of a palm not unlike 
the motacu which they call hindoera. In extract- 
ing these fruits, which grow in bunches, the tree 
is climbed and the cluster pulled down. 

During the months of July, August, and Septem- 
ber there is an abundant harvest of the fruits of 
the samuque palm (tlba) and of the nuts of the 
cusi palm. These latter, which are usually col- 
lected on the ground after they have fallen from 
the trees, are one of the most nutritious wild foods 
found in this part of the Amazon Valley. The 
fruits of the assai (tibaera) and the totai (korondla) 
palms, which are extensively used by the whites 
of the region for making wine, are not collected by 
the Siriono with whom I lived. 

In addition to the above-mentioned palms, there 
are many other fruit-bearing trees which seasonally 
add their crops to the Siriono food supply. Pre- 
dominant in the months of February, March, and 
April are the fruits of the coquino (iba), the 
aguai (ibadiSa), the gargatea (dikisia), pacay 
(iNga), wapomo {asambdkwa), pacobilla (idayd), 
cocao (ibiro), ballau (jiciba), andpaquio (tibdri), as 
well as unidentified wild fruits which the Siriono 
call mbea, tikaria, arid taruma. There is only one 
other fruit of any importance gathered in the 
dry season. This is an acid fruit known to the 
whites of the region as mbis and to the Siriono 
as ndia. 

In collecting wild fruits the men climb the trees 
and throw them down to the women waiting 
below. Tliis often entails considerable work as 
the trees are sometimes of such size that it is 
necessary to lash saplings to them in order to 
climb them, and it is frequently hazardous since 
a man is liable to fall from a branch while picking 
the fruits. If the fruits are not located too high 
in a tree, however, a man may fashion a rude hook 
by bending over and binding with liana the top 
end of a midrib of a motacu palm leaf, which can 
then be used to pull the fruits down from the 
tree. People usually eat their fill at the site of a 
fruit tree before loading then baskets to carry 
back to camp. 

The digging of roots and plants and the grub- 
bing of worms are almost negligible occupations 
among the Siriono, and provide hardly any part 
of the diet. The same may be said for the collect- 

ing of insects, which was never done insofar as I 
observed. Certain varieties of shelled inverte- 
brates — a mollusk called urukwa and a mussel 
called yisita— exist in the region, but these are 
likewise not sought for food, although their shells 
are gathered for tools. Several species of tortoise 
(konombi) are extensively collected for food. 
These are highly prized, as they can be tied up 
and cooked when desired. 

Like other tropical forest Indians the Siriono are 
fond of extracting the honey (hidou) of wild bees, 
which is the oidy "sweet" they possess. It is 
relished not only as food but for the making of 
mead as well. Honey is avidly sought, especially 
during the dry season when it is most abundant. 
In searching for honey, the Siriono do not go so far 
as to follow bees to the hive, but men out hunting, 
or collecting with the women, are most skillful in 
spotting wild beehives, which are usually located 
in hollow trees that are still standing. If the 
honey is not extracted when sighted, the person 
finding it returns later to do so. 

In extracting honey the tree containing the hive 
may or may not be cut down. In any case, a hole 
is made — nowadays with an iron ax — below the 
spot where the honey is located. The combs are 
then removed with the hands and the honey 
wrung from them into calabashes. Before the in- 
troduction of iron tools, the hole where the bees 
entered the hive was enlarged by using fire and 
the chonta digging stick. The removal of a hive 
of wild honey often took as long as an entire day. 
Besides collecting the honey from the hive, the 
Indians save the beeswax, which is prepared for 
use as cement in arrow making. 


Although agriculture has been practiced for 
many years by the Siriono (they may originally 
have been a strictly nomadic people) , it has never 
reached a sufficient degree of development to 
prevent their remaining a fairly mobile people. 
On the whole, its practice is subsidiary in the total 
economy to both hunting and collecting. One of 
the reasons for this may be that the game supply 
of an area becomes scarce before the rewards of 
agriculture can be reaped, thus entailing a i ?. ; gra- 
tion of the band to other areas to search for game. 
Moreover, the sheer physical effort involved in 
adequately clearing a patch for planting is enor- 



mous, as all labor of this kind is done with the 
digging stick and fire. Hence the Siriono have 
doubtless experienced greater rewards from the 
collecting of wild vegetable products and fruits, 
some of which, as we have seen, are available and 
abundant the year around, than they have from 
the practice of agriculture, whose yields are 
sporadic and uncertain. 

At the time of my stay, the Siriono with whom 
I lived under aboriginal conditions were planting 
the following crops on a limited scale: maize (a 
soft red variety, unique in the area), sweet 
manioc, camotes, papaya, cotton, and tobacco. 
Here and there throughout the area of their 
wanderings, they have also planted calabash and 
uruku trees. According to one of my oldest and 
best informants, Embuta (Beard), both cala- 
bashes and tobacco had been introduced in his 
lifetime, which would be within the last 50 years. 
Of the other plants, however, he emphatically 
stated that his father had told him that they had 
been given to the tribe by Moon (the mythological 
hero) and were thus very old in Siriono culture. 

No magical practice accompanies either the 
sowing or the harvesting of crops, and what plant- 
ing is done is largely a family affair and not an 
activity in which all members of the band coopera- 
tively participate. Both man and wife work 
jointly in clearing and burning over a small plot, 
frequently just outside of the house, in which 
they sow, also cooperatively, a few plants or seeds 
of maize, manioc, papaya, camotes, cotton, and 
tobacco. These plots are seldom over 50 feet 
square, and most of the work in them is done with 
the digging stick, the only agricultural tool. 
Today, of course, machetes are commonly em- 
ployed in clearing a plot, but the digging stick is 
still extensively used in planting. 

Little attention is paid to the time of year in 
sowing, although more sowing is done at the begin- 
ning of the rainy season than during the dry 
season, probably because the group is less mobile 
during wet weather. However, I saw maize, 
manioc, papaya, and tobacco planted the year 
around. Camotes, on the other hand, I saw 
planted only during March and April, these being 
harvested in July and August. Once plants are 
sown little attention is paid to them until harvest. 

Although a more or less permanent Siriono 
hut is encircled by familial garden plots, by no 
means are all gardens planted just outside of the 

794440—50 3 

hut. A hunter who is accustomed to going 
periodically to a certain lagoon, for example, to 
hunt or shoot fish, may plant a small garden there 
so as to have vegetable foods available when he 
returns on subsequent trips. I used to make 
hunting trips with my friend and informant, 
Eresa-e&nta (Strong-eyes), and his five wives and 
children to a lagoon about 2 days' journey on 
foot south of Tibaera, where he had maintained 
garden plots for many years. These hunting 
parties, which frequently included his two brothers 
and his fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law and 
their families, would often last 2 weeks, during 
which time we would make our headquarters at 
his gardens. While the men hunted around the 
lake, the women would tend the few plants and 
gather what produce they had yielded. Other 
hunters maintained similar plots on other lakes 
and would frequently repair to them with their 
families to hunt, tend then - gardens, and eat. 
Excess produce, such as a harvest of maize, is 
sometimes stored at the site in rude motacu 
baskets, so as to have a supply available on the 
next trip. Generally, however, little movement 
takes place until most of the crop has been eaten 
because of the difficulty of carrying it any great 
distance or the uncertainty of returning to the 
same spot for some time afterward. 


The Siriono possess no domesticated animals. 
Even the dog has not been introduced to the 
groups still wandering in the forest, although its 
existence is known through some individuals who 
have had contact with the outside. The general 
reaction to the dog, by those Indians who had had 
no contact with it, was one of extreme fear. This 
is not to be wondered at since the dog and the 
jaguar are called by the same term, ydkwa. When 
I asked informants why the two were called by 
the same name, they invariably called my atten- 
tion to the similarity between the footprint of a 
jaguar and that of the dog. 

Although domestication is an art foreign to the 
Siriono, the young of various animals are some- 
times captured alive and brought home as pets; 
under such conditions, however, I have rarely 
seen them live for more than a day or two, as they 
are very roughly handled by the children and are 
given no food. Consequently, they serve as 
morsels for some old man or woman for whom 



pickings are slim. Generally, the young of animals 
are killed immediately after the mother is killed. 
I was told by informants at Casarabe that young 
animals were sometimes raised to adulthood and 
then killed for food, but while, living with the less 
acculturated groups I never saw a single instance 
in which this occurred. When we were settled 
at Tibaera, for example, I myself tried to raise 
several howler monkeys, a coati, a young tapir, 
and a baby anteater — never, however, with any 
success, because they were soon killed and eaten 
by their Indian wards. These would then give 
me some such excuse for their dying as having 
been smothered by smoke in the night or having 
escaped into the forest. In all instances, I was 

able to establish that they had been killed and 
eaten while I was absent. 


There are plenty of rivers, lakes, and streams 
in the territory of the Siriono that contain a fresh 
supply of water the year around. Even when one 
is traveling through the bush during the height 
of the dry season one can usually find a water 
hole, a stream, or a brook from which to drink. 
Camp sites are always located near these spots. 
No wells are ever dug. 

There is likewise no shortage of firewood. The 
forest is full of dead and rotten trees that make 
excellent fuel. 


Two of the most frequent expressions that one 
hears around a Siriono shelter are: "sedidkwa 
tuti" ("My stomach is very empty") and "ma 
Tide seri" ("Give me something"). To the latter 
may be added an appeal for some delicacy, such 
as a piece of tapir or peccary meat, a bit of wild 
bee honey, or whatever else to eat someone may 
have around. But since the attention of the 
Siriono is most frequently and forcibly focused 
on his stomach, requests for anything but food 
are rare. Not infrequently the unlucky hunter, 
while resting from an unsuccessful chase, is re- 
proached by his wife for not having brought home 
more game, and, invariably, as one leaves for the 
hunt, the women and children call after him such 
commands as "Bring me back the leg of a peccary" 
or "Bring me back some tapir meat." 


The environmental and cultural conditions 
which exist among the Siriono are most favorable 
for giving rise to a strong anxiety about questions 
of food. It would seem, in fact, that of all the 
basic drives demanding satisfaction for survival, 
hunger is the one most frequently frustrated. 
The supply of food is rarely abundant and always 
insecure. Game is not plentiful; the techniques 
of hunting, fishing, and agriculture are very 
limited; patterns of food storage do not exist. 
Consequently, eating habits depend largely upon 
quantities of food available for consumption at 
the moment. When food is plentiful people eat 
to excess and do little else; when it is scarce they 

go hungry while looking for something more to 
eat. Starvation, however, never occurs. There 
are times when the Indians go for days on a diet 
of motacu fruits and palm cabbage, but these 
seem to be adequate for subsistence until game 
can be hunted. I know of one instance in which 
a party of Indians survived for 18 or 20 days on a 
diet of nothing more than pahn cabbage and a 
few wild fruits collected from the forest. Since 
they were on the march during this time, and 
were thus using up a great deal of energy, they 
exhibited definite signs of undernourishment after 
then journey. 

While I was living at Tibaera, my attention 
was called one afternoon to the arrival of seven 
Indians (two men, two women, and three chil- 
dren) who appeared to be especially thin and 
emaciated. After giving them some food, I 
inquired as to the reason for their semistarved 
condition. One of the men told me that they 
had run away from the Government School at 
Casarabe, situated about a hundred miles east 
through an uninhabited forest and plain that 
contained no trails, and that they had been with- 
out food for "many" days. This struck me as 
strange, inasmuch as the men were carrying their 
bows and arrows and the lands through which 
they had come were known to contain considerable 
game, including wild cattle which occasionally 
stray from the herds that wander on the plains of 
Mojos. Their hunger, it turned out, resulted not 
from the lack of game but from a lack of fire. 
After leaving the school, they marched at a rapid 



pace for a day or two to escape pursuit, after 
which they became so fatigued that while they 
were sleeping heavily one night their fires became 
extinguished. Since the Siriono have lost the 
art of making fire, and will not eat raw game 
under any conditions, this party was left with the 
alternative either of returning to the school and 
being severely punished for running away or of 
striking out in the direction of settlements which 
they knew to exist on the Rio Blanco and being 
rewarded by obtaining fire and freedom. While 
making the journey to Tibaera, they were reduced 
to a diet of a few plants and wild fruits which 
they found along the way, and because of the 
young children they were considerably impeded 
in their progress. Thus the journey, which would 
normally take about 6 to 8 clays to complete on a 
full diet, lengthened to a period of IS or 
20 days because of the meager diet on which 
they were forced to exist. One of the men told 
me that if they had not arrived when they did they 
might well have starved to death. 

Circumstances like those just mentioned rarely 
occur, but it is not uncommon for the Siriono to go 
for several days at a time without eating meat. 
My notes are full of statements to the effect that 
there was no meat in camp for periods of 2 or 3 
days, and when I myself was on the march with 
the Indians, I passed, in common with my com- 
panions, many meatless days. The longest of 
such periods that I recall endured for 4 days, dur- 
ing which time we were reduced to a diet of cusi 
nuts, palm cabbage, and motacu fruits. At this 
time we were wandering through a particularly 
sterile piece of high ground on which no game was 
sighted. When we finally did run across a band 
of wild peccary late one afternoon, we were all so 
fatigued that we were unable to give adequate 
chase and thus bagged only about half as many 
animals as we might have killed under more favor- 
able conditions. 

While first living at Tibaera, I kept records of 
the amount of game hunted and consumed by the 
band for a period of 3 months — during August, 
September, and October, 1941. At this time 
there were about 50 adults living there, and no 
meat was being introduced from the outside. 
During August and most of October I kept the 
records myself, but during September and the 
first 8 days of October I was wandering with 
another group of Indians in the forest, and the 

records were kept by a Bolivian employee of mine 
who stayed at Tibaera. The daily amount of 
meat hunted, by whom secured, and the approxi- 
mate quantity, i. e., estimated gross weight, were 
noted. The exact distribution of the meat to each 
individual was impossible to record, but the dis- 
tribution outside of the extended family was noted 
when it occurred. On the basis of the total popu- 
lation, the approximate consumption of meat per 
individual per day is shown in the following 

Month (1941): (in pounds) 

August 0. 56 

September . 53 

October . 36 

After my return from the forest in early October 

I was accompanied by 94 more Indians, so that 
keeping records of the amount of meat hunted and 
consumed by the entire group became so compli- 
cated and time-consuming that I was forced to 
abandon it. However, the figures above give a 
rough estimate of the quantities of meat consumed 
daily by the average Siriono. The noticeable 
decrease for the month of October was probably 
due to the fact that the Indians were more active 
in clearing land — to be planted in the month of 
November — than in hunting. Although I have 
no reliable data on meat consumption for the other 
months of the year, it is probably less during 
January, February, March, and April than at 
other times, because of the difficulty of travel 
during the rainy season. 

The figures above represent the amount of meat 
hunted by the Indians with bows and arrows. 
The data, of course, are not strictly accurate, 
because the weight of the meat had to be estimated 
and the number of people present in camp was 
not always the same. During this period some 
hunters would be gone for 3 or 4 days at a time, 
when it was impossible to keep records of their 
catch, and on some days perhaps not all of the 
catch was recorded. But even allowing for a large 
margin of error, the average Indian probably eats 
less than a pound of meat per day. 

During August there was no meat in camp for 

II days; in September for 9 days; in October for 
12 days. The most persistent hunter was out for 
16 of the 31 days in August, 12 of the 30 days in 
September, and 19 of the 31 days in October. 
The majority of hunters averaged from 10 to 12 



days a month. To be sure, the conditions at 
Tibaera were not in all respects aboriginal. In- 
formants told me, however, and my observations 
under aboriginal conditions seem to bear them out, 
that a man goes hunting on the average of every 
other day throughout the year. On the odd days 
he rests, repairs arrows, eats (if he has any food), 

While I was wandering in the forest with a group 
of Indians, when I too was hunting with a rifle 
and shotgun, the amount of meat consumed by 
the group rose considerably. I have records on 
this only for September 1941, a large part of which 
I spent on the march with parts of two extended 
families of Indians (21 adults in all) and one Boli- 
vian companion in search of another band. Dur- 
ing the first 1 1 days of the march, when most of 
the hunting was done with the rifle and shotgun, 
our meat consumption averaged 2.2 pounds per 
individual per day. After we had rested several 
days with another band and continued the march, 
our meat consumption jumped to 4.1 pounds per 
day for the last 15 days. I am inclined to believe 
that the increase was largely due to the fact that 
with a rifle and shotgun we were able to bag more 
big game, like tapirs, alligators, and peccaries, 
than the Indians would have been able to kill 
with their bows and arrows. Part of the increase, 
of course, may have resulted from the fact that 
we were wandering in areas richer in game than 
most and that we were hunting every day, but 
the superiority of the rine over the bow and arrow 
was almost certainly a factor. When game was 
sighted, the Indians would almost always call on 
my Bolivian companion or me to shoot. 

Although meat is the most desired item in the 
diet of the Indians, it is by no means the most 
abundant. Maize, sweet manioc, and camotes 
(when available) constitute a very important part 
of the food supply. Maize is eaten especially 
during the months of February and March. By 
the end of March the supply of maize, except for 
the few large ears that are saved for seed, has 
generally been exhausted. Sometimes, though 
rarely, maize is replanted in May to be eaten in 
July and August. Manioc, once planted, takes 
from 8 months to a year to mature. These restless 
natives seldom sow fields of any size, since they 
will often not be on hand to reap the benefits. 
Frequently in the Siriono territory one runs across 
old gardens containing edible stands of manioc 

that had been abandoned before the product was 
mature. When available, however, manioc is 
eaten the year around. Camotes constitute a 
heavy part of the diet during July, August, and 
September. The supply is never great, however, 
and is usually exhausted soon after the harvest. 
Papayas are generally available in small quantities 
the year around because the plant readily grows 
wherever seeds are dropped. The Indians seldom 
plant papayas. From their habit of swallowing 
the seeds of the ripe fruit, new plants automatically 
spring up after the seeds are expelled in the excre- 
ment. The area surrounding an Indian hut is 
thus rich in papaya trees. 

Supplementing the diet of meat and agricultural 
products are numerous varieties of wild fruits 
already referred to which mature during January, 
February, and March. These, coupled with maize, 
supply sufficient food for the semisedentary rainy 
season, when the meat supply is reduced. 

Food seems to be scarcest at the end of the 
rainy season (May and June), when there are few 
available wild fruits and when the waters are still 
too high to allow extensive migration. It is also 
scarce at the beginning of the rainy season (Novem- 
ber and December) before the maturity of wild 
fruits and agricultural products. 


With the exception of snakes and insects, almost 
everything edible in the environment contributes 
to the food supply. The reason for not eating 
snake meat, however, does not rest on magical or 
religious grounds; the Siriono believe, since a 
snake is able to kill by poison, that anyone who 
eats snake meat is also apt to be poisoned. This 
taboo applies not only to all poisonous snakes, 
such as the bushmaster and the rattler, but is 
generalized to include even nonpoisonous ana- 
condas, which often reach a length of 20 feet and 
could contribute considerable meat to the food 

I was presented with two favorable oppor- 
tunities to break down the taboo on snake meat, 
but in both cases the experiments failed. In the 
first instance, I killed a bushmaster about 8 feet 
in length just outside of the house. Since I was 
badly in need of a waterproof pouch in which to 
carry my powder and shot, I decided to remove 
the hide and to try to make one. While skinning 



the reptile, I noticed that it was particularly fat, 
and since I had no oil with which to keep my 
arms greased I decided to fry down some snake 
fat for this purpose. Also, since I had never had 
the opportunity, I decided to taste some of the 
meat. I made a point of frying a large steak in 
front of the Indians so that they could readily 
observe everything that was going on, and after 
this was done I sat down in a hammock and ate 
it in full view of the chief, who had not only 
warned me not to eat it but who, I am sure, 
expected me to drop dead at any moment. 
Fortunately, no ill effects resulted. On the 
following day I ate some more, but though I 
tried my best, I was unable to get a single Indian 
to try a piece of the meat. Some days later I 
had occasion to bake some corn muffins, and since 
I had no lard at the time I decided to make them 
with snake grease. After they were done the 
chief came around, and I offered him one. He 
began contentedly to munch it. After he had 
eaten about half, I could not resist the tempta- 
tion to tell him that the muffins contained snake 
fat, whereupon he immediately jumped out of 
the hammock, put his finger down his throat, 
and threw up every bit of the muffin he had eaten. 
For weeks afterward he reminded me of the trick 
I had played upon him and was skeptical of eating 
any food that I offered him until he was certain 
that the snake fat was gone. 

On the second occasion, my Bolivian companion, 
Silva, killed an anaconda of about 20 feet in 
length. Conditions for introducing snake meat 
at the time were favorable since little game had 
been secured for several days. But even under 
these circumstances, although I myself again set 
the example, I was unable to convince my Indian 
companions to try it. They showed no compunc- 
tion, however, about either hunting or eating the 
buzzards which fed on the carcass of the snake, 
and for several days thereafter buzzard became 
a prominent part of their diet. 

Apart from snake meat, bats, and a few poison- 
ous insects there are few things the Indians refrain 
from eating. Although not constituting a promi- 
nent part of the diet, such things as head lice, 
wood ticks, and grubs are swallowed without 

Theoretically, a man is not supposed to eat the 
flesh of an animal which he kills himself. If a 
hunter violates this taboo, it is believed that the 

animal which he has eaten will not return to be 
hunted by him again. Continued breaches of 
this taboo are consequently supposed to be 
followed automatically by the sanction of ill-luck 
in hunting. This rule may formerly have been an 
effective mechanism by means of which to force 
reciprocity in the matter of game distribution, but 
if so, it has certainly lost its function today, for 
the disparity between the ride and its practice is 
very great indeed. Few hunters pay any atten- 
tion to the rule at all, and when they do it is only 
with respect to larger animals, such as the tapir 
and the harpy eagle, that are rarely bagged any- 
way. In the case of smaller animals, such as coati 
and monkeys, I never saw hunters show any 
reluctance to eating those that they had killed 
themselves. Embiita, one of my older informants, 
told me that when he was a boy he never used to 
eat any of the game that he killed, but that nowa- 
days the custom had changed and that it was no 
longer possible to expect meat from someone else 
who hunted it. It thus seems that through a 
gradual process of change hunters have discovered 
that eating their own game does not necessarily 
result in poorer luck in hunting but, rather, in 
greater satisfaction to the hunger drive. The 
reinforcing experience of eating one's own game 
has thus caused a partial break-down in an old 
tribal custom. 

The few food taboos that do prevail among the 
Siriono have almost exclusive reference to the ani- 
mal world. Agricultural products and wild foods 
collected from the forest are never taboo ; they can 
be eaten on all occasions, by all age groups, and by 
both sexes. Free of all food taboos, including cer- 
tain kinds of meat which are forbidden to others, 
are the aged, that is, those who have passed child- 
bearing age or possess grown children. Since the 
Siriono do not practice fasting of any kind, even 
ceremonially, the aged can thus eat anything at 
any time. 

There are, in fact, certain meat foods that are 
supposed to be eaten only by the aged. These 
include the harpy eagle, the anteater, the owl 
monkey, and the howler monkey. Since the aged 
usually get only the left-overs of other food, the 
society thus seems to have provided for them in 
some way by reserving these animals exclusively 
for their use. Under conditions of need, however, 
I have frequently seen them eaten by people 
who were not supposed to eat them; only when 



other animals are relatively plentiful are the 
taboos strictly observed. 

Apart from the above-mentioned food taboos 
there are few others. Since these latter vrill be 
discussed on the occasions when they prevad they 
will not be mentioned here. 


The preservation of food is almost unknown. 
In this tropical climate fresh meat must be cooked 
within 8 hours after it is killed in order to prevent 
spoilage. The Siriono, moreover, have no salt with 
which to preserve meat, nor have they developed 
any techniques of drying and smoking meat to ren- 
der it edible for more than 2 or 3 days. Consider- 
ing the rude methods by which game is bagged, of 
course, the catch is rarely so large that it cannot be 
easily consumed within a day or two. If, however, 
the amount of game is greater than can be immedi- 
ately eaten, the excess meat is left lying on a low 
platform under which a fire is kept smouldering 
to preserve it. It thus remains edible for about 3 
days. But since no hunting takes place when one 
has meat on hand, the immediate surplus is never 
replenished. Hence even under the best of con- 
ditions the Indians can never be sure of possessing 
a meat supply for more than the 3 days that it can 
be preserved by their crude methods. 

Foresight in another respect does exist. On 
hunting and gathering trips the Siriono like espe- 
cially to encounter tortoises, because these can be 
collected and preserved alive over considerable 
periods of time. Tortoises are relatively abundant 
in the environment , and a lucky hunter may some- 
times return with as many as 8 or 10 of them, each 
of which may weigh from 8 to 10 pounds. They 
can be tied up with liana and kept alive for about 
a week, thus insuring a man and his family a meat 
supply for as long a time. In instances of this 
kind, one or two tortoises are usually butchered 
each day. In the meantime the. hunter spends his 
time eating and loafing and does not go out on the 
hunt again until the supply is exhausted. I have 
seen hunters who, under these conditions, rarely 
moved from their hammocks for an entire week. 

Maize is the only agricultural product that is 
ever stored in any quantity. Immediately after 
each harvest the various families tie their surplus 
ears of maize (in the husk) on to poles in the 
shelter. At this time a few of the larger ears are 

selected and put away in a basket for seed; the 
rest are gradually eaten until the supply is ex- 
hausted. Since crops are never very large, the 
surplus quantity of maize rarely lasts for more than 
a month after harvest. Thus, although two crops 
may be planted by a farndy during the year, 
maize is actually eaten in abundance for only 
about 2 months, that is, for about a month follow- 
ing each harvest. 

Manioc and camotes also are not stored, nor is 
the former made into flour. Both manioc and 
camotes are dug from the ground and eaten as 
they mature. When manioc is extracted, a few 
of the tubers may be planted at the same time so 
as to have some plants constantly maturing, but 
under aboriginal conditions the supply of both 
manioc and camotes, like that of maize, is never 
very abundant, and when the crop is mature it is 
quickly exhausted. It is a rare famdy that has 
manioc to eat the year around (I never knew of 
one), or camotes to eat for more than a month or 
two after the harvest. 

Wild fruits and other edible forest products are 
likewise never preserved or stored. Once the 
season of wild foods has passed they are not 
eaten again until the next season comes around. 

With respect to the food supply in general it 
can be said that, except for certain agricultural 
products like manioc, maize, and camotes, re- 
serves for more than 2 or 3 days are never built up. 
Fortunately the environment offers a constant 
source of some foods, like palm cabbage, so that 
even though hunger is often intense starvation is 
never imminent. 


Little care is taken in dressing game, which is 
done either by men or women. Animals with 
hair, such as monkeys and peccaries, are first 
singed whole in the fire, and the burned hair is 
then scraped off with the fingernails or with a 
small section of a midrib of a motacu palm leaf. 
The animal is then gutted with a sharp piece of 
bamboo after which the whole carcass is sometimes 
(but by no means always) perfunctordy washed 
before it is cooked. Birds are hastily plucked 
and then singed in the fire and gutted. If an 
animal is small it is usually cooked whole, but if 
it is too large for a pot (or too large to roast 
rapidly) it is quartered or cut up into smaller 



pieces with a bamboo knife. Armored animals 
like the armadillo and tortoise are usually thrown 
in the fire and left there to roast in their shells. 
Fish are never gutted before they are cooked, nor 
are the scales removed. 

The division of labor as regards cooking varies 
a great deal, depending upon the circumstances 
under which the food is being prepared. Every- 
one knows how to cook, even young children. 

Cooking is an art learned very early in life. 
When traveling with his mother and father, a 
child is often given a cob of corn to roast, some 
motacu fruits to roast, or a morsel of viscera to 
cook for himself. In fact, whenever animals are 
being cut up, there are always young children 
(as often boys as girls) around, waiting for some 
tidbit, which they then take to a fire and roast for 
themselves. Such morsels they share with no one 

While in camp, when the group is fairly settled, 
most of the cooking is done by the women. This 
is especially true if the preparation of the meal 
involves the grinding of maize or other vegetable 
products that are sometimes mixed with the meat 
and cooked in a pot. On the march, however, 
when pots have been temporarily stored and when 
most of the food is roasted, the men take as 
active part in cooking as the women. In fact, 
the roasting of meat often falls entirely to the 
men, especially since they may be off on the 
hunt several days without the women and thus 
be forced to barbecue the game before returning 
to camp. 

No condiments of any kind are used in cooking. 
Even salt (no deposits of this product are found in 
the area) is unknown to the Siriono living under 
aboriginal conditions. Evidently the foods they 
eat contain enough salt to produce the hydro- 
chloric acid necessary for digestion. 

I introduced salt to some Indians for the first 
time, and they expressed a distaste for eating it. 
By using small quantities in cooking, however, 
they soon developed a craving for it. In some 
instances this craving (once the Indians have 
become accustomed to using salt) has become so 
great as to become an important factor in estab- 
lishing and maintaining friendly relations with 
the whites. The late Frederick Park Richards, 
an American cattle rancher living near El Carmen, 

who was one of the first white men to establish 
permanent relations with the Siriono in the Rio 
Blanco area, told me that when he first came to 
the region in 1912 he was able to maintain peaceful 
relations with the Indians for years before they 
permanently settled down with him on his farms 
in 1925 by conditioning them to eating salt. 
I myself, however, have traveled with primitive 
groups when all of us went without salt for as 
long as 43 days without suffering any apparent 
ill effects from such a diet. 

Actually, little emphasis is placed on the prepara- 
tion of food. Depending upon the time, place, 
type, and quantity of game, it may be roasted or 
baked in the ashes of the fire, broiled on a spit or 
babrecot, or boiled or steamed in a clay pot. 
Some vegetable foods, such as maize, are prepared 
by grinding before they are cooked, and, of course, 
many nuts and fruits are eaten raw. 

The following is a list of foods and the ways they 
are prepared. 


Meats Never eaten raw; always broiled, 

roasted, or boiled; sometimes 
boiled with maize, manioc, or 

Fish Never eaten raw; almost always 

roasted on babrecot with scales 
and guts; sometimes boiled. 

Maize Never eaten raw; roasted in husk 

when young and tender; roasted 
on cob when mature and hard; 
sometimes ground up and boiled 
with meat or made into corn- 
meal cakes. 

Manioc Never eaten raw; peeled and boiled, 

sometimes with meat; roasted in 
peel in hot ashes. 

Camotes Never eaten raw; boiled in peels, 

sometimes with meat; usually 
roasted with peels in hot ashes. 

Papaya Always eaten raw. 

Palm cabbage Eaten raw but frequently boiled 

with meat. 

Motacu fruit Never eaten raw; always roasted. 

Nuts Always eaten raw. 

Coquino fruit Do. 

Chonta fruit Always boiled. 

Aguai fruit Always roasted. 

Rfndo6ra fruit Do. 

Gargat6a fruit Do. 

Paeay fruit Always eaten raw. 

Cacao fruit Do . 

Ndia fruit Do. 




It is difficult to establish a schedule of meal hours 
among the Siriono because of the insecure nature 
of the food supply and the nomadic character of 
life. People eat when they have food, and under 
these conditions they are just as apt to eat during 
the night as during the day. In fact, more food 
is consumed at night than at any other time be- 
cause hunters and collectors are away from camp 
most of the day and for reasons which we shall 
examine in a moment. 

The principal meal is always taken in the late 
afternoon or early evening. Other eating is 
mainly of the between-meal type, and occurs at all 
hours of the day or night. I was constantly 
surprised to find, throughout my residence among 
the Siriono, that food which had been left over 
from an evening meal was invariably gone by 
morning. Frequently, moreover, after the eve- 
ning meal has been eaten, a pot of food is put on 
the fire to cook during the night, and this, too, 
has usually disappeared by morning. 

The habit of eating during the night grows not 
only out of the necessity of hunting and collecting 
during most of the day but also out of a reluctance 
to share food with others. When meals are taken 
during the day, a crowd of nonfamily members 
always gathers to beg for morsels, and though 
little attention is usually paid to them, they do, 
nevertheless, constitute an annoyance. By eating 
at odd hours during the night, when nearly every- 
one else is asleep, an Indian not only gets more 
food but also avoids the nuisance of having others 
around to beg it from him. While I was on the 
march with the Siriono, my Bolivian companion 
and I were forced to follow the same practice. 
We found that it was impossible to eat in peace 
during the day, because we were constantly 
hounded by children and adults who claimed that 
they were hungry. The fact that we, too, had 
not eaten made no impression on them. Con- 
sequently we ate the greatest portion of our food 
at about midnight, when almost everyone else was 
asleep. A few of my loyal Indian companions, 
who developed a certain interest in my welfare, 
used frequently to wake me in the middle of the 
night to share food which they hated to display 
during the daytime because of the possibility of 
their having to divide it with someone else. When 
we were settled — I then sometimes had a supply 

of certain foods — it used to amuse me to note how 
my Indian friends would suggest that they come 
to my house and eat at night when the others 
would be fast asleep. 

Strictly speaking, the Siriono possess no eating 
utensils. A broken calabash may sometimes be 
used to scoop food from a pot or even to eat from, 
but such utensils as plates and spoons are not 
manufactured. Generally speaking, everyone 
participating in a meal eats from a common pot. 
Chunks of meat, pieces of manioc, and the like 
are picked out of the pot with the hands, but 
when the meal consists of gruel or a soup the food 
is generally scooped out of the pot by using 
half-shells of motacu fruits as spoons. Food is 
also sometimes distributed for consumption by 
pouring it out on leaves of patuju, a plant resem- 
bling the banana. The distribution of food rarely 
goes outside of the extended family. Within the 
extended family, however, the distribution of food 
does not follow any strict pattern. Each nuclear 
family cooks its own food and the head of the 
house usually gets the back of an animal; his 
first wife the two hind legs. Other parts of an 
animal are usually distributed without reference 
to status within the family. 

Eating takes place without benefit of etiquette 
or ceremony. Food is bolted as rapidly as possible, 
and when a person is eating he never looks up 
from his food until he has finished, so as to avoid 
the stares of begging onlookers. The principal 
goal of eating seems thus to be the swallowing 
of the greatest quantity of food in the shortest 
possible time. 

Appetites for particular foods are few. There is 
a preference for meat over all other foods and a 
preference for fat meat over lean meat, but the 
cook book of the Siriono is almost devoid of 
recipes. I have seen a man eat hawk with as 
much gusto as partridge, and I never heard an 
informant speak disparagingly about any food 
regarded as edible by the Siriono. 

The quantities of food eaten on occasions are 
formidable. It is not uncommon for four people 
to eat a peccary of 60 pounds at a single sitting. 
When meat is abundant, a man may consume as 
much as 30 pounds within 24 horns. On one 
occasion, when I was present, two men ate six 
spider monkeys, weighing from 10 to 15 pounds 
apiece, in a single day, and complained of being 
hungry that night. 




The only narcotic used by the Siriono is 
tobacco (ero), which is smoked in clay pipes, whose 
manufacture has already been discussed. Both 
the men and the women smoke, although it is 
always the latter who make the pipes (kedkwa) 
and prepare the tobacco. Children do not smoke 
until after they have reached the age of puberty. 

Just when the Siriono adopted tobacco is not 
known, although it certainly does not seem to 
have been aboriginal with them. As already 
mentioned, one of my oldest informants said that 
it was received from the whites while he was still 
a child, which would date its adoption by this 
particular group of Siriono at some time within 
the last 60 or 70 years. (The literature tells us 
nothing on this point.) Other informants at 
Casarabe, however, told me that when there was 
no tobacco available, other leaves were smoked, 
but what these were I was never able to determine. 
The forest Siriono with whom I lived at Tibaera 
saved seed and planted tobacco regularly with 
the rest of their crops, and they smoked no other 
kind of leaf. Wild tobacco, moreover, does not 
grow in the area. 

After the leaves of tobacco have become mature 
they are picked by the women and are slowly 
dried on a small mat, made from the heart leaves 
of the motacu palm, which is placed on supports 
over the fire. Once dried the leaves are powdered 
in the hands and the tobacco is ready for smoking. 
The supply of powdered tobacco is stored in a 
small calabash, which is topped with a piece of 

All smoking is done in the house. It is con- 
sidered bad form to smoke while on the hunt, as 
it is believed that animals will be driven away by 
the smell. Most smoking thus takes place while 
the Siriono are resting in the hammock or having 
drinking feasts, and hunters almost always smoke 
immediately after returning from the forest to 
stave off hunger until they are given some food. 

The pipe is filled and lighted by placing a small 
five coal on top of the tobacco. The pipe is 
grasped by the stem (the bowl gets very hot) with 
either the right or the left hand. When smoking, 
the head is slightly tilted back, since the pipe 
stem protrudes downward from the bowl. The 
smoke is sucked into the mouth oidy (no inhala- 
tion) and is blown out in short rapid puffs by 

79444(1 — 50 4 

withdrawing the pipe and extending the lips. 
When there are several people around, the pipe 
is passed from one to another. When the pipe 
ceases to draw well, it is cleansed with a straw 
from a heart leaf of a motacu palm. 

The Siriono do not seem to be much addicted 
to the use of tobacco. However, its role in the 
drinking feast is important in aiding the partici- 
pants to arrive at a semidrugged or partially 
intoxicated condition. During the drinking feasts 
for women I often heard them singing impromptu 
songs about pipes and tobacco which indicates 
that this drug may have some further magical 
significance that I was unable to ascertain. To- 
bacco, however, is never used therapeutically. 


Since the Siriono wear no clothes, and conse- 
quently perspire little, they are able to withstand 
long periods of time without water. Thirst, more- 
over, is almost never a problem to them, because 
wherever they wander they can find water holes 
or streams from which to drink, and if one can- 
not be found there are almost always lianas and 
stems of plants from which a considerable water 
supply can be obtained. Consequently the In- 
dians rarely carry water with them when they are 
on the march. 

At camp sites, water is brought to the house by 
women or children in calabashes or in sections of 
bamboo, which also serve as drinking vessels. If 
a thirsty Indian comes upon a water hole while in 
the forest, he plucks a leaf of patujii to drink 
from. In doing this once in the company of 
Kenda, one of my youthful informants from 
Casarabe, I inadvertently dropped my leaf into 
the water when I had finished drinking. He 
snatched it up and threw it away in the forest, 
saying that the leaf of the patujii contained an 
evil spirit and that if one threw his leaf into the 
water after drinking one would become sick. 
Although the ideas about water and thirst have 
not been crystallized to a point where I was able 
to get much information about them, I did observe 
that all Siriono followed this practice when drink- 
ing from holes in the forest. 

Accompanying the frustrations of forest life are 
occasional drinking bouts, which vary in frequency 
with the quantity of wild bee honey available. 
Since this product is most abundant in the dry 
season — after the flowering of the plants and 



trees — most of them thus occur during the months 
of August, September, October, and November. 

Mead is made from a mixture of cooked corn 
meal (or cooked manioc or cooked camotes) , water, 
and wild bee honey. It is always made by the 
women. The maize is first ground up fine in a 
mortar. The corn meal is then mixed with water 
and boiled in a clay pot until it becomes thick 
gruel. The hot gruel (not masticated as by many 
South American Indians) is then emptied into 
calabashes (containing only a small round hole at 
the top), each of which is about half-filled with 
cold water, until they are filled to about four-fifths 
of their capacity. After the gruel and the water 
have been thoroughly mixed with a small stick, 
about half a cup of wild honey for each quart of 
mixture is added to the calabashes. The honey is 
then stirred into the mixture, and the holes of the 
calabashes are loosely stopped with leaves of 
patuju to keep out flies and to allow some air for 
fermentation. The calabashes are then stored 
(undisturbed) in hanging baskets for about 3 
days, when the brew is considered to be of sufficient 
force (about the strength of beer) to be drunk. 

In making other types of beer the same process 
is followed, the only difference being that manioc 
(or camotes) is substituted for maize in making the 
gruel. To increase the strength of the beer, to 
make it more nourishing, and to hasten the 
fermentation process, boiled or baked corn-meal 
cakes are sometimes added to the brew. 

Calabashes are considered to be the most suit- 
able type of vessel for fermenting native beer, 
although when there was a shortage of these 
vessels 1 observed that it was fermented in long 
sections of bamboo. 

The making of mead is accompanied by con- 
siderable excitement and bustle. Great care is 
taken to see that the mixture turns out all right. 
There are always plenty of children present hoping 
to get a bit of the honey, and the women usually 
do not lack helpers, since jealous neighbors, gen- 
erally uncooperative, offer their services in the 
hope that they too will get a chance to partake of 
the honey while the mead is being made. More 
often than not they are brushed off and return to 
their hammocks unrewarded. 

Drinking bouts usually start informally. The 
man possessing the liquor invites a number of his 
male relatives to join him in consuming what beer 
he may have on hand. Bouts generally start in 

the afternoon, and, depending upon the quantity 
of liquor available, may last until far into the night 
or even be continued on the following day. The 
participants squat in a circle near the host's ham- 
mock, and as a calabash of mead is passed around, 
each in his turn drinks heavy draughts before 
passing it to the next person in the circle. The 
drinking is always accompanied by continual 
smoking of clay pipes (also passed around the 
circle), which ultimately contributes as much or 
more to the resulting intoxicated or drugged con- 
dition as does the somewhat light and nourishing 
native beer. 

As a drinking feast progresses, the Siriono, who 
is a very uncommunicative fellow when sober, be- 
comes an animated conversationalist, a performer, 
and a braggart. At the opening of the bout the 
talk usually turns to the merits of the liquor. One 
of my more poetic informants, Eresa-eanta (Strong- 
eyes), used to say, in describing the liquor at the 
start of almost every drinking feast: "Yesterday 
it was without force, like water or like earth, but 
today it has great strength." As the effects of 
the drinking and the smoking begin to be felt, one 
or more of the participants breaks out in song, 
usually impromptu and related to some exploit 
of which he is particularly proud, such as the 
killing of a tapir or a harpy eagle. Another may 
be engaged in discussing the desirability of looking 
for a new wife (always a young one or yukwdki) or 
of casting out the shrew he now has. As the mood 
gets mellower everyone joins the singing, and 
when the party has reached an advanced stage 
almost everyone is singing a different tune at the 
same time. 

While attending these drinking feasts, I tried 
my best to record a number of these songs, but I 
was never able to set down more than snatches of 
them because of the bedlam and the darkness 
existing at the time. Moreover, since most of the 
participants, following a drinking bout, were 
victims of alcoholic amnesia, brutal hangovers, and 
high anxieties, it was impossible to get much co- 
operation from them in this matter later. 

At every drinking feast of any size most of the 
nonparticipating members of the group are as- 
sembled at the edge of the circle. The spectators 
amuse themselves listening to the songs and the 
conversation, commenting on the course of the 
feast, and waiting for the participants to get drunk 
enough so that they can sneak a drink now and 



then. Children are always present, eagerly await- 
ing the emptying of a calabash, since it is then 
passed to them to drain the dregs. The women 
are almost always in the background watching 
over their husbands, because they are quite certain 
from previous experience that the party will end 
in a brawl. This is always the case when there 
is sufficient liquor. A man deep in his cups will 
turn to another (it may be his brother, uncle, his 
son-in-law, or even his father-in-law) and insult 
him with some such phrase as "Etomi tuti nde" 
("You are very lazy") or "Ai i tends gdtu" ("You 
never bring me meat with any fat on it") . He will 
be answered in the same vein, and a fight will soon 
break out. The Siriono do not fight with their 
fists at this time; physical aggression is expressed 
in the form of a wrestling match, in which one 
participant tries to throw the other to the ground 
again and again until he is too exhausted to rise. 
Since the contestants are usually so drunk that 
they cannot sta'nd up, these wrestling matches 
frequently terminate with both of them passed 
out on the floor much to the merriment of the 
spectators. Not infrequently, however, one or 
the other (or both) falls into one of the innumerable 
fires in every Siriono hut and gets badly burned. 

When the party reaches the fighting stage the 
crying women intervene and try to stop the fights. 
At this time they too come in for their share of 
aggression and not infrequently are struck forcibly 
by their husbands. However, I heard of only 
one case in which a man murdered his wife in one 
of these drinking bouts. This happened approxi- 
mately 15 years ago, the wife being shot through 
the heart with an arrow. Although overt aggres- 
sion runs high during drinking feasts, after they 
are over the participants usually suppress their 
angry feelings within a few days' time, and all is 
normal again until another drinking bout takes 
place. Insofar as I observed little sexual activity 
takes place during or immediately after drinking 
feasts. Participants are usually too drunk to 
indulge in sex. 

When a considerable supply of honey is avail- 
able, drinking bouts are timed so as to take place 
every few days until all the liquor is gone. For 
lack of honey, however, not more than a dozen 
are likely to occur during the year. A man who 
has given a feast expects to be invited to and is 
expected (wants) to attend those given by the 
people who participated in his. As most of the 

people who take part in these feasts are near 
relatives, this almost always happens. 

In only one instance did I notice that the 
aggressions of the drinking feasts were the direct 
cause of strained relations for a long period of 
time. During a bout in August 1941, Eantandu 
(Father-of-Strong-one), a chief, insulted and 
wrestled when drunk with Eresa-eanta (Strong- 
eyes), his cousin, or father's sister's son, over 
questions of food. Eantandu when drunk told 
Eresa-eanta that he never brought him any 
food, that he never hunted spider monkeys, that 
he was lazy, that he was evil, etc. Although 
neither participant knew much about what he was 
doing, a wrestling match ensued in which Eresa- 
eanta got badly burned in the fire, and he was 
unable to get out of his hammock for several days. 
As a result of this fight, about which Eresa-eanta 
was later told by his wives and brothers, strained 
relations persisted until January 1942, when I 
first saw the two together again at a drinking feast 
given by Eantandu — one which, incidentally, did 
not end in a brawl, as the liquor ran out. After 
recovering from the first drinking feast, Eresa- 
eanta with a couple of his brothers and their 
families remained away from the band for long 
periods of time, hunting, fishing, collecting, and 
attending their gardens at a nearby lake. 
Although the party returned to Tibaera from tune 
to time for a few days or a week, Eresa-eanta 
would have no relations whatever with Eantandu, 
even though their respective wives were friendly 
enough. After relations had been reestablished at 
the second drinking feast, however, the two con- 
tinued on friendly terms. 

Like the men, the women too have their drink- 
ing feasts, but these do not usually terminate as 
rouglily as those of the men. In five of these 
feasts which I observed, singing was the prominent 
feature apart from the drinking and smoking. 
Although the women accused each other of having 
had sexual relations with one another's husbands, 
most of them had reached such an intoxicated 
condition by the time these accusations were 
made that they were placed in their hammocks to 
sleep it off. 

In only one instance did I observe mixed drinking. 
This involved three old women and their husbands 
and brothers. On this occasion, however, only a 
few calabashes of mead were available, and the 
party was not organized in any way. 





"Early to bed and early to rise" is the motto of 
the Siriono, who usually retire to their hammocks 
as soon as night falls and who are up and about 
before the crack of dawn. Actually their day 
begins a couple of hours before dawn. Retiring 
as they do about 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening, 
they are generally awake by 3 a. m., when they 
begin to sing impromptu songs as they engage in 
the routine of roasting a cob of maize, a piece of 
manioc, or some camotes, or of warming up a pot 
of food left over from the night before. Such 
activity is continued until daylight, by which time 
tbey have eaten and the day's work has begun. 

In the early morning a Siriono hut must be ap- 
proached with caution so as to avoid stepping on 
the innumerable piles of excreta that have been 
freshly deposited just outside of the house during 
the night. Although adults retire to a respectable 
distance from the house to defecate, during the 
day — there are no special latrines — their nightly 
behavior in this respect is restricted by the intense 
darkness, the annoyance of insect pests, and the 
fear of evil spirits, and they seldom go very far 
from the house. Moreover, the excreta are rarely 
removed the following day, but are left to gather 
flies, to dry up, or to be washed away by the rain. 
Thus after a few weeks' time the immediate en- 
virons of the house become rather unbearable to 
the unaccustomed. The only care taken in this 
respect is to avoid defecating directly in the house, 
on the trails leading out from the house, or within 
about 10 yards of a water hole. 

The activities of the day begin with little 
ceremony. Such health and cleanliness measures 
as washing the teeth, face, or hands, or combing 
the hair, at such an early hour of the morning, 
are quite unknown to the Siriono. True, one may 
go to the hole or a brook for water early in the 
morning, but it will be used for drinking or cooking. 
Moreover, at this time of day almost no attention 
is paid to one's neighbor. This is clearly reflected 
in the native language, which contains no such 
salutations as "Good morning" or "Good night," 
and it is rare to ask a neighbor how he slept the 
night before or to inquire of a sick relative whether 
he has improved during the night. Most early 
morning preoccupations, in fact, revolve around 
the happenings in one's immediate family, within 

which, however, neither loud conversation nor 
squalling children ever seem to be lacking. Espe- 
cially are complaints registered: one may have 
been bothered by mosquitoes the night before; 
another may have been bitten by a vampire bat; 
a third may have burned himself, having fallen 
out of his hammock into the fire during a night- 

On a typical day, when settled or on the march, 
the men are off to hunt at the break of day. If 
they have not had time to eat before they leave, 
they may take with them a piece of roast meat, 
maize, or manioc, to munch as they go along the 
trail. When men remain at home, they usually 
occupy themselves in repairing arrows, making 
bows and digging sticks, etc. If the band is fairly 
settled at the time, the men hunt in all directions 
from the house, but if the group is on the march, 
the hunters usually proceed in a circuitous route 
through the forest in the direction of the camping 
spot decided upon for that night. In any case 
the women are usually left behind to care for the 
children and to carry out the routine household 
duties or, if on the march, to pack up the gear 
and transport it to the next camping spot. As 
camps are rarely moved during the rainy season, 
and not more often than every 10 days or so during 
the dry season, a partial stabdity is maintained 
over considerable periods of time. 

Whde the men are out hunting, the women 
may be occupied in any number of routine house- 
hold tasks, such as bringing in firewood, grinding 
corn, cooking, weaving baskets or mats, coiling 
pots, drying tobacco, or repairing hammocks. 
The women also devote a considerable part of the 
average day to the spinning of cotton string, which 
is extensively used in arrow making. Since most 
of these household duties are pursued around the 
hammock and the fire, gossip and conversation are 
freely indulged in throughout the day, and there is 
almost always a pot of something cooking on the fire 
with which the women and children nourish 
themselves while the men are gone. 

The men usually return from the hunt between 
4 and 6 o'clock in the afternoon. Some type of 
food has already been prepared, awaiting their 
arrival, and while the men are eating, the women 
occupy themselves in dressing the day's kill for 
the evening meal, which will be eaten as soon as it 



can be cooked. If darkness has not descended, a 
bath and sexual intercourse frequently follow the 
dinner, after which the Indians retire to their 
hammocks to smoke, play with the children, and 
talk until sleep overtakes them. Fatigued by a 
day of work or of walking in the forest, most 
members of the camp are asleep by 8 o'clock, 
unless there is to be a dance or a drinking feast. 


Labor is not a virtue among the Siriono. 
They are relatively apathetic to work (tdba tdba), 
which includes such distasteful tasks as house 
building, gathering firewood, clearing, planting, 
and tilling of fields. In quite a different class, 
however, are such pleasant occupations as hunting 
(gwdta gwdta) and collecting (dtka deka, "to look 
for"), which are regarded more as diversions than 
as work. This is not to be wondered at, since 
these latter pursuits are more directly and immedi- 
ately connected with the urge for food than are 
the more distantly rewarding labors of agriculture. 
What seems to be true, to put it psychologically, 
is that the responses of hunting, fishing, and col- 
lecting have been and are more immediately 
reinforced than those of agriculture. 

When food, especially meat, is plentiful, little 
work is performed. What people like best to do 
at this time is to lie in their hammocks, rest, eat, 
indulge in sexual intercourse, sleep, play with their 
children, be groomed, sing, dance, or drink. Free 
time is rarely employed in improving the house, 
although rain is expected, or in enlarging a garden 
plot, although the supply of food is insecure. 
When the immediate needs for food have been 
supplied, a person is neither much criticized for 
doing nothing, nor much praised for occupying 
his time in constructive labor. 

Besides the immediate desire and necessity for 
food, the incentives to labor are few. No prestige 
is gained by building a better house or a larger 
garden, both of which may have to be abandoned 
on the next move. It would seem, in fact, that 
the nomadic character of the band is the principal 
reason for not working, because the results of 
one's labor can rarely be carried with one. 

The nuclear family is the basic work group. 
Although considerable cooperation in the per- 
formance of duties takes place between members 
of an extended family, there are few tasks whose 

performance necessitates the cooperation of all 
members of the band. The nearest approach 
to such cooperation occurs when the band is 
on the march — when a new camp site has to be 
cleared or when a new house has to be built. 
But even in carrying out these tasks, members of 
an extended family join together to clear the part 
of the site which they will occupy or to build that 
section of the house where they will live. In this 
simple society the ties of kinship are strong. 

Within the family, the division of labor follows 
normal lines of age and sex, except that the duties 
performed are neither as highly differentiated nor 
as sharply defined as in many preliterate societies. 
The peculiar circumstances prevailing in this 
environment and culture sometimes demand that 
a person perform temporarily, at least, tasks that 
might otherwise be delegated to the opposite sex. 
Thus, although cooking is normally the role of a 

Table 2. — Distribution of labor according to sex 





Tilling .--. 


Dressing game... 
Burden carrying. 


Caring tor children 

Spinning thread - . 

Twining string 

Twining bowstring 

Twining hammocks 

Twining baby slings 

Carrying water 

Collecting firewood 

Extracting clay 

Pot making . 

Pipe making 

Weaving mats 

Weaving fire fans 

Weaving baskets 

Making mead 

Preparing feather ornaments.. 

Stringing necklaces 

Cutting and depilating hair... 


Fishing . 

Felling trees 

Extracting honey . 

Weapon making 

Tool making (spindle, digging stick, etc.).. . 


Bridge making. 

Refining beeswax - 

Preparing utensils (calabashes, mortar and 
pestle, etc.) 

Men and 







woman, when the men are off on the hunt it is 
they who must barbecue the meat. Similarly, 
although basketry is the art of women, men must 
sometimes make baskets in which to carry home 

On the whole, however, the sex division of labor 
follows the pattern presented in table 2. 


Although rivers and lakes abound in the terri- 
tory traversed by the Siriono, all movement and 
transportation take place on foot, overland. 
Considering that the water courses are extremely 
abundant, that the Siriono are constantly crossing 
rivers and streams in their wanderings, and that 
there is no lack of excellent materials in the en- 
vironment from which to build canoes, it is 
surprising that they have remained unique, as 
compared with their immediate neighbors, in not 
constructing watercraft of some kind. Even 
though they are not a river people— their camps 
are usually located inland — the number of lakes 
and streams in their territory would seem to 
justify the use of watercraft, not only as an ad- 
junct to foot travel, but as a means of augmenting 
the food supply as well. Since much of the ac- 
tivity related to the food quest, during the dry 
season particularly, centers around the lagoons 
and streams, canoes would be of great advantage 
in fishing and in stalking waterfowl. It would 
seem, in fact, that the lack of canoes can only be 
explained by such hypotheses as that they have 
never tried to build them or that attempts to 
build them have proved unrewarding. 

The trails (nenda) over which transportation 
and hunting take place are not built ; they simply 
grow up from use. A hunter may strike out in a 
general direction through the forest in quest of 
game, and as he follows his meandering course, 
avoiding dense growths of underbrush where 
travel is difficult and going around fallen trees 
that may impede his progress, he bends over a 
few leaves and twigs. In his travels be may en- 
counter a water hole, a stream, or a lake where 
hunting is good, and if this be the case, he may 
return again and again to the same spot, some- 
times with his tribesmen, until by frequent use a 
new trail is formed. When a new camp site has 
been settled, trails grow up rapidly as a result 
of hunters and collectors making food recon- 

naissances in all directions from the house. 
Those routes yielding game are traversed again 
and again, while those proving sterile are immedi- 
ately abandoned. 

Trails are never cleared and are very poorly 
marked. About every 15 feet or so a small plant 
or a piece of brush is bent over to the right of the 
direction in which one is proceeding. Thus one 
can always tell in which direction the trail runs 
or was made. Except in the cases of trails which 
connect one camp site with another, the network 
of trails roughly follows the pattern of a wheel. 
With the camp site as the hub, a trail goes out 
along one spoke and returns by another. A 
great deal of crisscrossing and overlapping, of 
course, do occur. 

It is impossible for the uninitiated to follow 
these rude paths. Since most Indian hunting 
trails lead out from a hut and back to it, one must 
make many sterile attempts in trying to trace the 
course of a band from one abandoned hut to an- 
other, before striking the path that connects two 
houses. Even when I was traveling with Indians 
of the same tribal group, I found that they, too, 
were never sure whether a newly discovered trail 
was an abandoned hunting trail of another band 
or whether it might actually lead us on to the spot 
where the band was settled. 

When on the march the Indians do not move 
great distances in a single day. The lack of good 
roads, the necessity of crossing swamps and 
streams, the impediment of young children who 
must be carried or who cannot walk rapidly, the 
burden of the gear — the hammocks, the pots, the 
baskets, the calabashes, the food, etc. — all hinder 
progress considerably. When lack of food or water 
forces a band to move, the members usually 
average not more than 8 or 10 miles a day, and 
since they stop to rest, hunt, and gather at each 
camping place, movement of the entire band does 
not usually take place more often than every 4 or 
5 days. Unless there is some definite objective 
toward which they are traveling, they exhaust the 
wild life of an area as they travel. 

While I was living with a band on the march for 
about 6 weeks during September and October 
1941, while they were traveling from a camp site 
northeast of Yaguaru, Guarayos, to Tibaera on 
the Rio Blanco, it took them about a month to 
travel about a hundred miles. Movement of the 
entire band took place on the average of every 3 



days. There were nine camps between the starting 
point and the objective, which means that on days 
when movement took place approximately 10 
miles were covered. It is difficult, however, to 
make any generalizations as to the amount of 
travel done by a band, since so much depends on 
the food supply in the area. Some camps may be 
abandoned within a few days' time, while others 
may be occupied for more than 6 months. I visited 
some 50 sites that had been variously occupied and 
abandoned during the past 20 years. 

The amount of band travel, however, cannot be 
taken as a measure of the amount of travel done by 
individual hunters or by family groups. Hunters 
may cover as many as 40 mdes a day in their quest 
for game, and when nuclear families are away 
from the band on hunting and gathering expedi- 
tions, they, too, may travel great distances in a 
single day. I have made trips with a man, his wife, 
and young chdd when we walked as many as 25 
miles in a single day. 

When on the move, men cooperate with the 
women in carrying the family burdens, which are 
packed in carrying baskets woven from the green 
leaves of the motacu palm. These baskets are 
carried on the back, being suspended from the 
head (women) or shoulders (men) by a tumpline of 

Considerable weight may be transported by 
these methods. The average pack for a man or 
woman runs around 60 or 70 pounds. When 
meat is being transported in from the forest, I have 
seen a man carry up to 200 pounds on his back for 
a distance of 10 miles without exhibiting a great 
deal of fatigue. When the Siriono are traveling 
or carrying burdens, however, brief halts are usu- 
ally made about every 2 hours for purposes of 

Young children are carried by the mother in a 
sling which is slung around her shoulder. The 
baby sits in the sling with its legs astride her hip. 
When marching in the forest a man may some- 
times relieve a woman in carrying the children, 
but he will never enter camp carrying "female 

On the march the men, with their bows and 
arrows over their shoulders, go ahead of the 
women. If game is sighted they temporarily drop 
their loads and give chase. By the time the next 
camping place is reached, they have generally 
killed some animals for the evening meal. 

In walking over the narrow paths, the Indians 
march in single file and walk with the toes pointed 
inward at an angle of about 45° to prevent sticks 
and thorns from bruising the tender skin between 
their toes. Because of this habit, the Siriono have 
become a really pigeon-toed people. 

Although no type of watercraft is manufactured 
or used, rivers, swamps, and streams offer little 
hindrance to travel except during the rainy 
season, when most of the country becomes one 
continuous body of water. But as already noted, 
little movement takes place at this time. Even in 
the dry season, however, there are brooks, streams, 
and swamps to cross in every day's travel. Since 
the bodies of waters are low at this season most of 
them can just be walked through, but if the water 
is found deeper than the height of one's head other 
means of crossing must be resorted to. 

The most common method of crossing a deep 
stream is to fell a tree from one bank to the other. 
If the stream is fairly wide, a tree may be felled 
from either bank. If this does not prove feasible, 
a heavy liana may be tied to trees on both banks — 
one individual swims across with the liana — and 
the people pass from one side to the other by 
going hand over hand along the liana, the body 
being buoyed up by the water. It is interesting to 
note that D'Orbigny (1835-47, vol. 4, pp. 343-344) 
first called our attention to this method of crossing 
the rivers more than a hundred years ago. When 
crossing streams or rivers, burdens are generally 
placed on the head to keep them dry, and the 
children are carried astraddle on the shoulders. 

A great many streams become stagnant during 
the dry season, and are covered with a dense 
blanket of water grass. These growths are usually 
so thick that one can walk quickly over their tops 
without sinking into the water below. But for 
aid in crossing such streams saplings or bamboos 
are sometimes laid on top of the grass so as to 
make a temporary bridge. 

When all other methods prove to be of no avail 
in crossing a river or a stream, swimming is 
resorted to. The Siriono are excellent swimmers. 
They swim with a crawl stroke, as well as "dog 
fashion." In spite of the abundance of palometas 
and alligators, every child of 8 knows how to swim. 

Finally, it should be mentioned that in crossing 
deep rivers or streams, people usually cover their 
genitals with one hand so as to protect them from 
the palometas which infest all of these waters. 



They also step with care so as to avoid sting rays, 
whose stabs leave nasty wounds. 


Art, apart from the song and dance, has re- 
mained at a very backward level among the 
Siriono. Beyond the stringing of necklaces, the 
painting of the body (without design), and the 
decoration of hair with feathers, no attempt is 
made to embellish anything. Most objects of 
the culture, in fact, seem to have a purely utili- 
tarian reason for existence. Pottery is not only 
rude but plain. Such thixigs as bows and arrows 
and calabashes are never decorated. Moreover, 
the idea of portraying some aspect of the culture, 
realistically or symbolically, by drawing, painting, 
or sculpture is completely foreign to these Indians. 

What has been said of art can also be said of the 
instrumental aspect of music. Not a single type 
of musical instrument is known. Not even such 
rhythm-beating instruments as rattles or clappers 
are employed, nor is anything ever hung on the 
body to make noise to accompany singing or 
dancing. All music, in fact, is vocal. Singing 
does, however, play an important role in the 

Early morning singing, which makes it impos- 
sible for anyone to sleep after it starts, is a definite 
part of each day's routine, especially when the 
group is settled for any length of time as they 
were at Tibaera. Even on the march, or when a 
man is out alone with his family, this practice is 
followed. Everyone sings. The songs are mo- 
notonous, impromptu chants, which sometimes 
have reference to some aspect of the food quest. 
From some distance away, the early morning 
chorus sounds not unlike a group of howler 
monkeys heralding the day from the top of some 
distant tree. 

When I was first with the Indians I forced myself 
to leave a comfortable hammock and mosquito 
net many times at about 3 a. m., and, with flash- 
light, pencil, and notebook in hand, I made a 
sincere effort to record some of this early morning 
music. After a series of unrewarding attempts, 
however, and under extremely unpleasant condi- 
tions, I allowed the Indians to greet the day with- 
out the nuisance of my presence. My informants 
all told me, however, that the songs had no mean- 
ing, and, as far as the words were concerned, I 

am inclined to believe that this is true. In dis- 
cussing the question with Abraham Richards, the 
son of an American cattle rancher who was born 
and raised with a group of Siriono on his father's 
cattle ranch near El Carmen, he told me that he, 
also, was never able to make any sense out of 
these early morning songs. However that may 
be, on inquiring of informants as to why they 
always greeted the day with songs, one of two 
reasons was always given: either they were happy 
or they were like the birds ("Hadn't I noticed 
that most of the birds and some of the animals 
greeted the day with song?"). Singing in the 
morning thus may perform the function not only 
of pleasantly filling in the period between dark- 
ness and dawn, after sufficient sleep has been 
obtained and before the activities of the day 
begin, but also of reinforcing the bonds main- 
tained with the animal world. 

The importance of singing at drinking feasts 
has already been stressed. The songs sung at 
this time, like those sung in the early morning, 
are largely impromptu. To record them without 
instruments is next to an impossibility, because 
the singers are drunk and mouth their words 
more than usual. Insofar as I was able to deter- 
mine, however, they are stylized only as to form 
and rhythm and never as to content. Informants 
said that when drunk they sang whatever rhyth- 
mical combinations came into their heads. 

The most meaningful songs seem to be those 
that are sung in connection with the dance. 
Dancing (yuruki) is always accompanied by 
singing {hiddsi ddsi) and is a very common way 
of passing parts of the long tropical nights espe- 
cially when the moon is shining. Group dancing 
is rarely indulged in during the day or on nights 
when the moon is dark. On such nights a fear 
of evil spirits keeps the Indian close to his ham- 

Both men and women dance to the accompani- 
ment of songs, but they never dance together. 
Nor do people dance alone. A man (or woman) 
wishing to dancp may get up and do a solo number 
by way of animating his tribesmen to join him, 
but the expression of the dance comes through 
participation of several people in the circle. 

In forming the dance circle, men link their arms 
in the following manner. With his right hand one 
grasps the left wrist of the second person on one's 
right. One's left wrist is then grasped by the right 



hand of the second person on one's left. When 
the circle is completed one's back is thus encircled 
by the left arm of the person on one's right and 
by the right arm of the person on one's left. 

Following the formation of the circle the dancing 
and singing begin. The participants throw back 
their heads and stamp their feet alternately up 
and down firmly to the rhythm of the music. The 
circle itself remains stationary during the first 
phase of the dance. When the dance begins, the 
beats of the feet are coordinated with the accented 
syllables of the following song, which is sung in 
unison : 

hito hito hito hito 
ti su & ca 
yi sa di mo&i 
d ti ba ti i cd 
ai i ca 
viimbd mimbd 

This song is always sung at the opening of 
a dance, whether it be men or women that are 
dancing, but I was unable to get a translation of 
it. All of my informants told me that the song 
was meaningless, but it does contain some 
meaningful words, such as yisddi mose ("when 
dancing") and the expression hito which probably 
here means "happy." This suggests that part of 
the song, at least, means something like "I am 
happy when I dance." 

During the first phase of the dance, the song 
quoted above is sung over and over again in unison 
about 25 times, by which time a considerable emo- 
tional enthusiasm has taken hold of the group. 
After a brief rest, the second phase of the dance 
begins, also by everyone singing a song in unison. 
Some verses of this song are quoted below: 

dh dh dh ah, dh 

sdn de ra Id 

td du bd 


c-u. du jd hd 

nde ra ja nendd 

ta miNge 


cii, du ]d hd 

ai sat ibi atd 

ai sat ibi atd 

ibi kwa 

ku ru kiod ta 

ki a td 

ai sai ibi a ju du 

miin du bd 

a turu bd 


cu du jd hd 

Although the above song contains certain 
meaningful words, a translation is impossible 
because it seems to follow no grammatical pattern. 
After a number of verses have been sung over 
and over again to the accompaniment of stamping 
feet, a leader takes charge of a circle and the 
singing becomes impromptu. During this phase 
of the dance, in addition to the stamping of feet, 
the entire circle of dancers moves round and round 
counterclockwise, the participants bending their 
heads downward so as to hear the words of the 
leader. As he chants a phrase the participants 
repeat it after him. His phrases often bear on 
some exploit in hunting or on some event in his 
life of which he is particularly proud. One moon- 
light night, for example, Yikinandu (Father of 
Owl-monkey) chanted for 2 hoius about how he 
had killed tapirs and jaguars; on another, Eresa- 
eanta (Strong-eyes) sang for as long a time about 
how he and his brother killed a white man years 
ago during the last rubber boom. Since these 
songs are impromptu and are sung only during a 
dance, it is impossible to record more than snatches 
of them without technical equipment, which I 
did not possess. Nor did my knowledge of the 
language ever reach a point where I could under- 
stand them fully. 

The women perform a ring dance similar to 
that of the men, except that they do not link 
their arms in the same fashion and do not stamp 
the ground with such force with their feet. In 
forming the dance circle women place their arms 
around the necks of the participants next to them, 
and their body movements consist of waddling 
around in a circle counterclockwise, with hips 
swaying, to the accompaniment of the songs. The 
women's dance begins with the same song as that 
of the men. It is sung over and over in unison, 
after which a leader breaks in with an impromptu 
chant, the phrases of which are repeated after her 
by the other dancers. On the whole, the women 
dance less often then the men. 

Everyone knows how to dance and to sing some 
songs. Since the rhythm of the dance consists 
merely in the stamping of feet, there is no problem 
in learning to dance. Young people are often 
observed forming a dance circle in imitation of 
their parents. Although all adults know how to 
sing some songs, certain individuals are known 



to be more skillful in composing songs than others. 
Such people usually take the lead in the dances 
and play the most prominent role in the singing 
that accompanies drinking feasts. It may be 
significant that in the two extended families which 
I knew well, both of the chiefs were prominent 

singers. But although they often took the role 
as leaders, other individuals equally gifted also 
frequently assumed the same role. There are no 
professionals— no persons who are always called 
upon to sing at a drinking feast or to chant at 
a curing rite. 


The Siriono conception of the universe is an 
almost completely uncrystallized one. My Indian 
friends never voluntarily talked about cosmologi- 
cal matters, and when I attempted by questions to 
gain some insight into their ideas about the nature 
of the universe I almost always met with failure. 
Young men would say, "Ask the old men," and 
the old men would answer, "I do not know." 
Even the sage of one of the extended families, 
Embuta (Beard), although he showed considerable 
interest in my inquiries and gave me unhesitat- 
ingly what information he possessed, was simply 
unable, for lack of ideas, to enlighten me on most 
points. On several occasions I even held con- 
sultations with those whom I regarded as the 
sages of the band, but got only general agreement 
that nothing was known about this question or 
that. It would seem that their concern with the 
immediate world has left the Siriono little time 
to speculate on cosmological matters. 

The more or less indifferent attitude taken 
toward the universe is clearly reflected in the 
virtual lack of folklore and mythology. The 
Siriono are one of the few primitive peoples I 
know of who do not devote a considerable part of 
their free time to the telling of folk tales and 
myths. In about 8 months of more or less per- 
manent (i. e., day and night) residence with them, 
only twice was anyone animated to tell a folk 
tale or story of his own accord. After making 
one unsuccessful attempt after another to get in- 
formants to relate myths and tales, I was forced 
finally to conclude that this phase of culture was 
simply not developed, that there was no fund of 
folklore and mythology upon which to draw. If 
people did any talking at night it usually had 
reference to some happening in the immediate 
world, such as a tapir hunt or a quest for wild 

Moon (Ydsi) is the culture hero of the Siriono. 
Formerly he was a great chief who lived on the 
earth. At that time there was nothing but water 

and a race of harmful people. Moon destroyed 
these evil beings, and at the places where they 
were killed, the reeds from which the Siriono make 
their arrows sprang up. Moon then created man 
and the animals. At first both were in a kind 
of amorphic state. The animals were too hot to 
touch and burned the arms of the men who came 
in contact with them. Jaguars, especially, killed 
many men before the latter learned how to hunt 
them. Moon taught men how to hunt and fish, 
to make bows and arrows, to plant crops. He 
gave them maize, papaya, manioc, chonta, and 
wild fruits and plants. In fact, he is responsible 
for the world and everything in it. 

Moon is now believed to live in the sky. The 
reason for his ascending to the heavens is revealed 
in the following folk tale, which also explains why 
the animals have the shapes and colors they now 

Ydsi (Moon) had a child. Ydkwa (Jaguar) was de- 
lousing the child and killed him by biting him in the head. 
Then Yasi came along and said, "Who killed my child?" 
Yoita (Fox) was standing by and said, "I do not know." 
Ydkwa was hidden between two mats of motacu at this 
time. Then Yasi went along and began to ask all of the 
other animals, "Who killed my child?" All of them 
answered, "We do not know." Then he came to where 
Erubat (Spider Monkey) and Tendi (Howler Monkey), 
and Sedci (Coati) were having htri hiri (a drinking feast). 
Yasi was very angry. Erubat wanted to be red in color 
like T6ndi, but Yasi said, "You will be black." Yasi was 
angry because all of the animals were drunk. Then he 
grabbed Tc5ndi by the neck and pulled it into the shape 
it now has. Kwandu (Porcupine) was standing by, got 
angry with Ydsi and began to scratch him. Ydsi put 
spines in his back and fixed his feet so that he could not 
scratch. He also twisted the feet of Antanbuja and 
Antandisa (Anteaters) and picked up Kon6mbi (Tortoise) 
and threw him down again, saying, "You will not walk 
fast." All of the animals were very angry. That is why 
Erubat and Tendi howl so loudly today and that is why 
Erubat throws chonta fruits at one when one passes by. 
Ydsi was still very angry and decided to go up into the 
sky. He began to climb a huge tree up into the sky. 
Before going up he told Ydkwa to follow him, but Ydkwa 
did not know how to climb very well and when he got 



part way up he fell down into the water below and was 
eaten up by Senye (Palometas), who were enormous in 
those days. 

The folk tale quoted above, of which there are a 
number of variants, was about the only one I ever 
beard the Siriono tell. Although Moon is credited 
with having started everything in their culture, 
stories to account for these things were never 
told. I could get no supporting myths, for in- 
stance, for the origin of the world, the origin of 
men, or the origin of fire, even though informants 
were agreed that Moon was responsible for them. 
Moon now lives in the sky. He is a great chief. 
He spends about half of his time hunting. Dur- 
ing the dark of the moon the Siriono say that he 
is far away, hunting peccary. To explain the 
waxing moon, Embuta told me that when Yasi 
comes back from these hunts his face is very dirty; 
he washes a little of it each day until, when the 
moon is full, his face is clean. To explain the 
waning moon, he said that when Yasi goes on a 
hunt he gets his face a little dirtier each day, 
until before long it is so dirty that it cannot be 
seen at all. 

In the explanation of natural phenomena, 
Moon also plays an important causal role. One 
explanation of thunder (ingicindmo) and lightning 
(iNgui) is that they are caused by Moon throwing 
peccaries and jaguars down from the sky. An 
alternative explanation of thunder was offered 
by Aciba-e6ko (Long-arm), who stated that it 
was caused by Moon pulling up bamboo in the 
sky. Still a third interpretation of thunder and 
lightning, one that has no relation to Moon, is 
that they are caused by a huge jaguar {yaktuadusu) 
who lives in the sky. When this jaguar winks his 
eyes there is lightning, and when he shakes himself 
there is thunder. There was no general agreement 
among informants as to which of these interpre- 
tations is correct. 

Thunder and lightning, however, are always 
greeted with howls by the men, who step outside 
of the house and roar at the sky. This is believed 
to drive the thunder and lightning away. In- 
formants also told me that it was good to dance 
and sing during a thunder storm, as it would 
then disappear more quickly, but I never saw 
them practice what they preached in this respect. 

As to other celestial phenomena, no distinction 
is made between the planets and the stars, and 
there is no grouping of stars into constellations. 

Both planets and stars are called yasi tdta (moon 
fire). Insofar as I could tell, these "moon fires" 
are believed to be caused by the moon, although 
in places where Christian influence has penetrated 
they are thought to be fires of people who live 
in the heavens. I was unable to get any causal 
explanation for the rainbow (ibe iri), although 
its appearance presages an epidemic of colds. 
One of my Casarabe informants, Kenda, told 
me that the rainbow contained an abacikwaia 
("evil spirit") which causes sickness of the nose 
and throat. Eclipses, it seems, are unknown; at 
least I was unable to get any interpretation of 
them. Beyond the statement that the sun is 
"fire" and is responsible for the light of day, 
I could get no native explanation of it. 

Mist (or fog) is called tatdsi (smoke), and is 
equated with smoke from fires or pipes. Rain is 
caused by the overflowing of a large lake which is 
believed to exist in the heavens. Winds (kiridia), 
especially the cold south winds that come from 
Tierra del Fuego during the dry season, are 
believed to be caused by abacikwaia. No special 
significance seems to attach to whirlwinds, of 
which I was unable to get an explanation, although 
storms generally are also thought to be caused by 

Most adults have an excellent knowledge of the 
geography of the area in which they wander. No 
matter how meandering his course, the Indian 
never gets lost in the jungle and is able to return 
directly to the spot from which he started. While 
no more than two cardinal points — east, where the 
sun rises, and west, where the sun sets — are rec- 
ognized, the course of the sun in the sky, together 
with such marks as topographical phenomena and 
water courses, accurately guide the Indian on his 

Knowledge of plants and animals is most exten- 
sive. When the plants flower, when they bear 
their fruit, which ones are good to eat, etc. are 
known by every child of 10. The habits of ani- 
mals — what they eat, where they sleep, when they 
have their young, etc. — are common knowledge to 
every boy of 12. 


The Siriono are unable to count beyond 3. In 
counting to 3, however, the following words are 
employed: komi (1), yeremo (2), yeremoiio (3). 



Everything above 3 becomes either etubenia 
(much) or edta (many). 

In counting, the fingers are sometimes employed 
to illustrate the desired number by placing one, 
two, or three of them on the nose. In indicating 
any number above 3, in addition to saying "many," 
the fingers on one or both hands may be held up, 
or, if the number is very great, the toes may be 
thrown in to boot. For instance, when a return- 
ing hunter is asked some such question as "How 
many turtles did you find?", if the answer is be- 
low four he will hold up the appropriate number 
of fingers to his nose and say the number; if it is 
above three he may hold up a confused number of 
fingers and just say "many"; if it is very great 
he may demonstrate his toes as well. 

The inability to count beyond 3, however, does 
not mean that an absence of one object from 
among a large number will not be noted. A man 
who has a hundred ears of corn hanging on a pole, 
for instance, will note the lack of one ear imme- 
diately. Thus the mathematics of the group, when 
it comes to counting above 3, at least, seems to be 
based on some kind of Gestalt; whether something 
lias been added to or subtracted from the visible 
total will be known because of a change in 

Since trade and commerce are completely for- 
eign to the Siriono, they employ no weights or 
measures. The size of pots, the length of bows 
and arrows, etc., are determined entirely by guess. 
The length of a hammock, of course, is roughly 
determined by the height of the person who will 
use it, but no tools of any kind are employed in 
measurement. The same may be said for measure- 
ments of distance, which is merely expressed in 
terms of far (iso) and near (aiiti) with the addition 
of gestures. With respect to distance, the Indians 
sometimes employ such vague references as one, 
two, three, or many "sleeps," i. e., days away on 

No records of time are kept, and no type of 
calendar exists. The vear, with its division into 

months or "moons," is quite unknown. Events 
are sometimes referred to phases of the moon, but 
such references are extremely vague. The seasons, 
of course, are clearly recognized from such phe- 
nomena as the receding of waters, the flowering of 
plants, the ripening of wild fruits, and the harvest 
of reeds, but seasons are not named and are not 
coordinated by the Siriono into any kind of 
calendar year, although such a calendar might 
easily be compiled. In referring to past events, 
the Siriono most frequently say that they happened 
kose mose, which may mean any time before the 
day before yesterday. Events are also sometimes 
referred to as having taken place "when I was a 
little girl" (yukwdki mose), "when I was sick" 
(serdsi mose), "when I killed a tapir" (sedkwantui 
mdno mose), "when I was living at the old house" 
(se cucua ima mose), etc. 

Day is referred to as nasi and night as itonddru. 
Tomorrow is known as isamdmi and yesterday as 
hMA. To express the clay after tomorrow or any 
day in the future the Siriono say isamdmi anoNge 
("brother of tomorrow"), and they similarly call 
the day before yesterday kudi anoNge ("brother 
of yesterday"). Today is always expressed by 
ndmo ("now"). The time of day is indicated by 
the position of the sun in the sky. When one asks 
a Siriono "Where is the sun?" ("ma tendd si 
mdnde?"), one may get any of the following answers, 
depending on the time of day or night: 

eresai i tendd bi ("the sun can be seen") — about 6 a. in. 
tenda cut ("the sun is out") — about 8 a. m. 
Undacuitehukdli ("the sun is well up") — about 10 a. m. 
tenda ndnde itcrS ("the sun is overhead") — noon. 
Undo, 6so ("the sun is leaving") — about 4 p. m. 
Unda osdti ("the sun is low") — about 5 p. m. 
Hilda 6so tciiu kdti ("the sun is well down") — about 

6 p. m. 

ibi ta Unda kdti ("the sun is under the earth") — about 

7 p. m. 

edesai Uo ("hard to see") — twilight. 
Uo ndmo ("soon dark") — about 7 p. m. 
itonddru ("darkness") — about 8 p. m. 
itonddru tiiti ("very dark") — about 10 p. m. 
itondi ("pitch dark") — about midnight. 





The nuclear family, consisting of a married 
man, his spouse or spouses, and their children, is 
the fundamental social and economic unit among 
the Siriono. Most of the activities of the culture, 
in fact, revolve around the nuclear family. 
Hunting is largely a family affair, as are fishing, 
collecting, and agriculture. Siriono society, more- 
over, contains no specialists; the only occupational 
differences are those based on sex and age. Hence 
all work such as basket making, tool making, 
weapon making, and pot making must be done 
within the family. So important is the nuclear 
family that the culture contains few activities 
and the society performs few functions that are 
not embodied in or performed by individual 
family groups. 

Family life centers not in a separate dwelling 
but around the hammocks of the husband and 
wife, which are hung in the communal dwelling 
of the band. Each monogamous family generally 
occupies two hammocks; one is for the man and 
the other for his wife and children. In polygynous 
families the wives occupy separate hammocks, 
which are placed with reference to the hammock 
of the husband according to their status in the 
family hierarchy. The first wife usually occupies 
the position to the right of the husband; the 
second, to the left; the third, at his head; the 
fourth, at his feet. Between these hammocks 
lie the family hearths or fires upon which the 
cooking is done. Since the distance between the 
hammocks is seldom greater than 3 feet, a nuclear 
family, if monogamous, rarely occupies a space 
greater than 8 feet square. Within this hang the 
calabashes of water, the baskets of food, and all 
other family possessions. 

While one usually enters a family group by birth 
or by marriage, it is also possible to enter by 
adoption. Among the Siriono, however, there are 
no formal ceremonies of adoption, nor are any 
specific relatives designated to take care of orphan 
children. One orphan whom I knew was being 
raised by his maternal grandmother; a second, by 
her mother's sister; still a third, by his mother's 
parallel cousin (a classificatory sister), who also 
happened to be his father's second wife. In- 
formants told me, however, that a mother's sister 
of an orphan child was most frequently designated 

to assume the mother's role. Insofar as I was 
able to determine, adopted children are treated 
in about the same way and are considered as 
much a part of the family as natural children. 

Adults are never adopted. After living about 
8 months with the Siriono, during which time I 
was on senoNge (my brother) terms with the chief 
and often hung my hammock next to his, I was 
never regarded as a member of the family except 
in a joking way. While I was respected and 
generally liked, I was always looked upon as 
an outsider. 

Within the nuclear family authority is patri- 
potestal. A woman is subservient to her husband, 
while children are subservient to both parents. 
In polygynous families the first wife— generally 
the one to whom the man has been married the 
longest — is dominant over all other wives. While 
considerable economic cooperation takes place 
between cowives in a polygynous family, more 
work is done by the secondary wives than by the 
first wife. The former, for instance, are always 
required to do the menial tasks, such as bringing 
in firewood and water. The first wife, moreover, 
is privileged to distribute her husband's game, 
she usually gets the first choice (after the husband) 
of food, and it is usually her son who succeeds his 
deceased father if the latter was a chief. Further- 
more, it is at the hearth of the first wife that the 
husband generally eats. The secondai'3 r wives 
maintain hearths of their own where they cook for 
themselves and then children. 

A man enjoys sex rights with all of his wives, 
but they are not necessarily exercised in any 
prescribed manner such as by rotating from one 
wife to another or by concentrating principally on 
the first wife. In sororal unions the kinship tie 
between cowives doubtless does much to mitigate 
friction that might otherwise arise between them, 
but in nonsororal plural marriages sexual jealousy 
between cowives is sometimes intense. Since food 
and sex go hand in hand in Siriono society — and 
there is a scarcity of the former— the wives with 
whom the husband most frequently has sex 
relations are also the ones who generally get the 
most to eat. Consequently, cowives frequently 
vie with one another for the sexual favors of their 
husband. This sometimes leads to bitter fights 
and quarrels. If, for instance, a first wife is 



growing old and is receiving less and less attention 
from her husband as regards both food and sex, 
she frequently displaces the aggression she feels 
for him, but cannot express directly, to a younger 
wife who is enjoying his favors at the moment. 
Such outbursts of emotion sometimes culminate 
in bitter fights, the women tearing up each other's 
hammocks and striking each other with digging 
sticks and spindles. An aging first wife generally 
maintains her dominance in the family for a while, 
but as her husband pays less and less attention to 
her, she gradually resigns herself to a secondary 
role in the household. She continues to cling to 
her economic rights, however, as long as she 
possibly can, and these are usually maintained 
longer than her sexual dominance. 

A man generally takes no part in the fights that 
break out between his wives; indeed he is usually 
away on the hunt when they occur. Only if they 
occur too frequently or become too violent does 
the husband interfere. Under these conditions 
he may threaten with divorce the wife standing 
lower in his favor, in order to keep peace in the 

While relations between husband and wife are 
generally amicable, quarrels are of frequent 
occurrence. They usually arise over questions of 
food and sex. When a man has been out hunting 
all day without eating and arrives home to find 
that his wife has not prepared something for him 
to eat, or if he has had ill luck in hunting and is 
chided for this by his wife, a quarrel is apt to 
arise. In situations of this kind it is the husband 
who expresses the stronger aggression, and as a 
rule other members of a family take no part in a 
marital dispute. 

If a man is only mildly angry with his wife, his 
feelings usually go no further than harsh words. 
He may accuse her of being etomi (lazy) or ecirn- 
bdsi (promiscuous), or threaten her with divorce. 
If his anger rises to a higher pitch, he may rip a 
string or two from her hammock or smash one of 
her pots. If his anger becomes intense, he may 
tear her hammock to shreds, chase her out of the 
house with a firebrand, or even turn his anger 
against himself and break his bow and arrows. 
He never beats her, however. Following an 
intense outburst of aggression, to which a woman 
responds by crying and running into the bush, 
a man usually leaves the portion of the dwelling 
which he occupies with his wife and goes back to 

his relatives until amicable relations have again 
been established. A man signifies his desire for 
reconciliation by returning to the hearth of his wife. 


Besides being a member of a nuclear family, 
every Siriono also belongs to a larger kin group, 
the matrilineal extended family. Such unilineal 
kin groupings as moieties, clans, and sibs are not 
found among the Siriono. Because of matrilocal 
residence, groups of matrilineal relatives tend to 
cluster together in the house and to form ex- 
tended families. An extended family is made up 
of all females in a direct line of descent, plus their 
spouses and their unmarried children. 

The primary function of the extended family is 
economic. While the nuclear family is the basic 
economic unit, considerable cooperation in the 
performance of duties also takes place within the 
extended family. Such cooperation is often 
heightened by the fact that brothers frequently 
marry sisters and thus continue the cooperative 
role they played in their family of orientation. 

The distribution of food rarely extends beyond 
the extended family. Members of an extended 
family cooperate to build that portion of the 
dwelling which they occupy. They sometimes 
plant gardens in common. A woman often 
gathers food with her sisters or her mother, and 
when brothers are members of the same extended 
family they frequently hunt together. Some- 
times the entire extended family leaves the band 
for a while as a unit and goes on a hunting and 
gathering expedition. 

The extended family is generally dominated by 
the oldest active male. Although his power is not 
supreme like that of the father in a nuclear family, 
younger members of the extended family usually 
pay heed to his words. The head of an extended 
family, however, does not possess any title, such 
as that of chief. 


The local group or band is the largest social 
group to which a Siriono belongs. In a certain 
sense the band is also a kin group. Since bands 
rarely have contact with one another and are thus 
largely endogamous, it is possible for most band 
members to trace their descent through one line 
or another to every other band member. 



One feature of Siriono society makes it most 
difficult for the ethnologist to determine the 
actual constitution of the band. A very active 
system of teknonymy operates to make the col- 
lection of genealogies an almost impossible 
task. Every time a Siriono is the father or the 
mother of a child, his name is changed to that of 
the child with an additional suffix indicating 
father or mother. This, coupled with the fact 
that nicknames are also frequently changed, 
makes it possible for an Indian to have as many 
as 15 or 20 names during the course of a lifetime. 
One's father, for instance, will not have the same 
name after one's own birth that he had after the 
birth of one's elder brother. Consequently, if 
the ethnographer asks two people, whom he 
knows to be brothers, the name of their father, he 
may get two entirely different names for the same 

When I first began to work among the Siriono 
I remained entirely ignorant of the system of 
teknonymy until I began to collect genealogies. 
Analysis of these proved to be useless in establish- 
ing relationships between people whom I knew to 
be related. A dead ancestor was almost always 
referred to by as many names as I had informants. 
After 4 months' study at Casarabe — made difficult, 
of course, by the break -down of the old social 
organization — I was unable to check my findings 
by genealogies because of the operation of teknon- 
ymy, even though I had acquired a fairly com- 
plete knowledge of the kinship system and the 
rules of marriage through face-to-face relation- 

By the time I got to Tibaera, of course, my 
knowledge of the language had increased con- 
siderably and I was well aware of the system of 
teknonymy. Thus when I returned from the 
forest with the band of Aciba-e6ko (Long-arm) 
in October, 1941, I threw away my old genealogies 
and began systematically to collect new ones from 
almost every member of this group. Careful 
analysis of this material, though much of it proved 
useless, revealed that, even with the operation of 
teknonymy, certain nicknames in particular tended 
to persist, and I was thus able to get a number of 
reliable instances where two men who said they 
were brothers actually did have the same father 
and mother. Once having a tangible basis of 
this kind to work upon, I was able to trace out 
rather fully, by checking back on old names, a 

number of genealogies and to work out the kinship 
system and rules of marriage. I was never able, 
however, to determine the actual kinship of every 
band member to every other band member, even 
though I could record the kinship terms by which 
they designated each other. 

In the 5 extended families who made up the 
entire band of A6iba-e6ko there were 17 nuclear 
families, all of whom were monogamous except 4. 
In the 4 extended families who made up the en- 
tire band of Eantandu there were 14 nuclear 
families, all of whom were monogamous except 3. 
In both bands the chiefs maintained more than 
one wife: Aciba-e6ko had two, while Eantandu 
had three. The total population of the band of 
Aciba-e6ko was 94. Of this number, 25 were 
adult males, 30 adult females, 18 preadult males, 
and 21 preadult females. The total population of 
the band of Eantandu was 58; 17 were adult males, 
19 adult females, 10 preadult males, and 12 pre- 
adult females. The average number of children 
per family, considering both bands as a whole, 
was about 2; in the band of Aciba-e6ko it was 2.3, 
while in the band of Eantandu it was 1.6. Since 
the latter band had had considerable contact with 
the whites, a number of their children had been 
stolen from them. 

Each band occupies a single dwelling, within 
which cluster the extended families. The chief 
and his extended family always occupy the center 
of the house, while the other extended families 
spread out from his in both directions. During 
the rainy season, when travel is difficult, the band 
is a fairly cohesive unit, but during the dry season 
it is much more loosely organized. At this time 
nuclear and extended families are often away 
from the band on hunting and collecting trips that 
sometimes last 3 weeks or a month. 

The chief function of the band seems to be that 
of supplying sex and marital partners. It per- 
forms few economic or ceremonial functions and 
is held together largely by ties of kinship. 

The Siriono have a very weakly developed tribal 
sense. Whde bands occasionally come in contact 
with each other in their wanderings, there are no 
ceremonial occasions when they all come together. 
When contacts between bands do occur, however, 
relations are peaceful. 

Bands possess no prescribed territories. If one 
band runs across hunting trails of another, how- 
ever, they do not hunt in that area. When I was 



traveling with Indians of one band in the neigh- 
borhood of a house of another, they were reluctant 
to do any hunting. Informants told me that 
where trails of another band existed, the animals 
of that area belonged to the people who made the 


There are only 11 fundamental kinship terms 
by which relatives are designated among the 
Siriono. As can be seen by examining charts 
1, 2, 3, and 4 and the list of terms given below, the 
kinship system is a highly classificatory one; 
many relationships are signified by a single term. 

Kinship term: Relatives to whom applied* 

( 1) ami Father's father. 

Father's father's brother. 
Father's father's sister's son. 
Father's mother's brother. 
Father's mother's brother's son. 
Mother's father. 
Mother's father's brother. 
Mother's father's brother's son. 
Mother's mother's brother. 
Mother's mother's brother's son. 
Mother's mother's sister's son. 
Mother's brother. 
Father's sister's husband. 
Father's sister's son (M. S.). 
Wife's father (M. S.). 
Wife's father's father (M. S.). 
Sister's husband (M. S.). 
Husband's father (F. S.). 
Husband's father's father (F. S.). 
Husband's sister's husband 

(F. S.). 
Old man. 

(2) iiri Father's mother. 

Father's mother's sister. 
Father's mother's sister's 

Father's father's brother's 

Father's father's sister's 

Mother's mother. 
Mother's mother's sister. 
Mother's mother's brother's 

Mother's brother's wife. 
Father's father's sister. 
Father's sister. 
Father's sister's daughter. 
Wife's mother (M. S.). 
Wife's mother's mother (M. S.). 
Husband's mother (F. S.). 

1 Male and female speaking unless otherwise designated. 

Kinship term: 

(2) dri (con.) 

(3) eru. 

(4) ezi. 

Relatives to whom applied ' 
Husband's mother's mother 

Husband's sister (F. S.). 
Old woman. 

Father's brother. 
Mother's sister's husband. 
Father's father's brother's son. 
Father's mother's sister's son. 
Mother's sister. 
Father's brother's wife. 
Father's mother's brother's 

Father's father's brother's 

Mother's mother's sister's 


(5) an6Nge Brother. 


Mother's sister's son. 

Mother's sister's daughter. 

Father's brother's son. 

Father's brother's daughter. 

Half brother. 

Half sister. 

(6) yande Mother's brother's daughter 

(M. S.). 
Wife's sister (M. S.). 
Wife's sister's husband (M. S.). 
Father's sister's son (F. S.). 
Husband's brother (F. S.). 
Husband's brother's wife (F. S.). 
Potential wife (M. S.). 
Potential husband (F. S.). 

(7) akwanindu Mother's brother's son. 

Mother's brothel's son's son. 

Father's sister's daughter's son. 


Mother's sister's daughter's son 

(M. S.). 
Sister's son (M. S.). 
Father's brother's daughter's son 

(M. S.). 
Father's sister's son's son (M. S.). 
Wife's brother (M. S.). 
Mother's brother's daughter's son 

(F. S.). 
Mother's sister's son's son (F. S.). 
Brother's son (F. S.). 
Father's brother's son's son 

(F. S.). 

(8) akwani Mother's brother's son's daughter. 


Mother's sister's daughter's 

daughter (M. S.). 
Sister's daughter (M. S.). 



O = Female 
A = Male 

[-A ami 

-O ari 

l O ari 
ii ' . 

-A ami 




-A ami 


L_o an 



i-A ami 

-O an 


u 9 9*i. 

•—A ami 

-A ami 

1-0 ari 

















O an 
i— « * 

^ am >. 

O ezi 
ii ' 
A eru 

-O ezi 

-A eru 

■-O ezi 
ii 7 _ 


O ezi 
■ i » 
A eru 

O ari 
i— ii v .- 





•A akwanindu* 






L A 


L A 

















































r-O $ke 

~*-A ake 

r-O ^ke 

~L-A ake 

i-O ake 










i-O ake 

"■— A qke 

r- O |ke 

■-A ake 


r-O ake 

•—A ake 

j-O ake 

•—A ake 

r-O §ke 

~*-A ake 

j-O ake 

"•-A ake 

CO ake 

A ^ke 

r-O ake 

■—A ake 

j-O ^ke 

~^—& ake 

j-O ake 
■- A §We 
O §ke 




j— O ake 

"t-A ake 

j-O |ke 

•-A ake 

Chart 1. — Lineal kinship chart Siriono (male speaking). 



Kinship term: Relatives to whom applied 

(8) akwani (con- Father's brother's daughter's 
tinued) daughter (M. S.). 

Father's sister's daughter's 

daughter (M. S.). 
Father's sister's son's daughter 

(M. S.)- 
Wife's brother's wife (M. S.). 
Mother's brother's daughter 

(F. S.). 
Mother's brother's daughter's 

daughter (F. S.). 
Mother's sister's son's daughter 

(F. S.). 
Brother's daughter (F. S.). 
Father's brother's son's daughter 

(F. S.). 
Father's sister's daughter's 

daughter (F. S.). 
Brother's wife (F. S.). 

(9) edidi Son. 




Brother's son (M. S.). 

Brother's daughter (M. S.). 

Father's brother's son's son (M. 

Father's brother's son's daughter 

(M. S.). 
Mother's sister's son's son (M. S.). 
Mother's sister's son's daughter 

(M. SO. 
Mother's brother's daughter's 

daughter (M. S.). 
Mother's brother's daughter's 

son (M. S.). 
Sister's son (F. S.). 
Sister's daughter (F. S.). 
Father's brother's daughter's 

daughter (F. S.). 
Father's brother's daughter's 

son (F. S.). 
Father's sister's son's son (F. S.). 
Father's sister's son's daughter 

(F. S.). 
Mother's sister's daughter's 

daughter (F. S.). 
Mother's sister's daughter's 

son (F. S.). 

(10) ake Grandson. 

Child of nephew or niece. 
Child of first cousin once re- 

(11) nininfzi 2 Wife (M. S.). 

Husband (F. S.). 
' I am not positive that this term is applied to both husband and wife. 
Since the kinship system makes no sex distinctions between potential hus- 
band and potential wife, I am fairly certain that the same term is applied to 
actual husband and wife. 

Kinship terms are more frequently used in 
address than personal names or nicknames. The 
latter, however, are sometimes employed in ad- 
dress and frequently (particularly nicknames) in 
reference. In husband-wife relationships, more- 
over, special teknonymic usages prevail. After a 
child has been born, a man addresses his wife as 
akesi (mother-of-child) and he is addressed by 
her as aktndu (father-of-child ) . These usages, 
so far as I know, do not extend to other relation- 

The outstanding characteristics of the kinship 
system are the following: 

(1) Kinship is bifurcate-merging. The father's 
brother is classified with the father, while the 
mother's brother is designated by another term; 
similarly, the mother's sister is classified with the 
mother, while the father's sister is designated by 
another term. 

(2) Grandparents are not distinguished in 
kinship terminology. Grandfathers and their 
brothers are. designated by the same term as 
mother's brother, while grandmothers and their 
sisters are designated by the same term as father's 

(3) No sex distinctions are made between sib- 
lings and parallel cousins, all of whom are desig- 
nated by one term. 

(4) Cross-cousins are distinguished from parallel 
cousins, and the cross-cousin terminology reflects 
the system of marriage. A man marries his 
mother's brother's daughter, a woman her father's 
sister's son. Marriage between a man and his 
father's sister's daughter or between a woman and 
her mother's brother's son is forbidden. The 
cross-cousins whom one can marry are referred to 
by the term "potential spouse." The father's 
sister's children are terminologically classified with 
the father's sister and her husband, i. e., they are 
raised one generation, while the mother's brother's 
children are classified with nephews and nieces, 
i. e., they are terminologically depressed one gen- 
eration. On the basis of cousin terminology the 
kinship system is thus of the Crow type. 

(5) No sex distinctions are made between son 
and daughter, both of whom are designated by 
the same term, and this term is extended to in- 
clude the children of siblings and of parallel 
cousins of the opposite sex. 

(6) Special terms showing sex differences are 
employed to designate the sons and daughters of 




-O ari' 




O « Female 
A » Male 


S 9*i. 

A ami 

-A ami 
-O ari 

A ami ' 

-O ari. 
-^ ami 













•-A ami 





,-9 9*4- 
A ami 

9 §zi_ 
A eru 

- O ezi 

O ' . 



-A eru 

O ezi 
-II * — 

A eru 

O ^i'i 




'-A akwanindu- 


L A 



L A 





- A anoWge- 

anc-Nge ■ 

•—A anc-Nge ■ 





A akwanindu- 
i— O akvrani- 

•A akwanindu- 



L A 




A akwanindu- 









r O 


'-A akwanindu- 








Chart 2. — Lineal kinship chart Siriono (female speaking). 

j-O ake 

•—A ake 

j—O ake 

"1-A ake 

j- O ake 

-A ake 
j—O ake 
"•-A ake 





A ake 


r-o ake 
"t-A ake 

j-O ake 

"l-A ake 

CO ake 

A ake 

j-O ike 

"f-A ake 

j-O ake 

T-A ake 



akwar. i Q" * 

' i — O 

A akwanindu [» 

/ r— 

-O akwani 1_ 

*- A akwanindu Q" 

C© edidi 







siblings and parallel cousins of the opposite sex. 

(7) No sex distinctions are made between 
grandson and granddaughter, or the children of 
nephews and nieces, all of whom are called by 
one term. 

(8) There are no special affinal terms except 
the one for actual spouse. 

(9) No age distinctions are made for any type 
of relatives. 

O = Female 
A = Male 

O akwani 
r-A akwanindu 

A yande 

■ O yande 

O ari 


A ami 

A akwanindu 




L A 

O akwani 

- o yande 


A ami 
Chart 3. — Affinal kinship chart Siriono (male speaking). 

O = Female 
& = Male 

O ari 

A ami 

A ami 
r-O ari 

O yande 


A yande 


A akwanindu 

r-O EGO 




Chart 4. 

A yande 


O akwani 

-Affinal kinship chart Siriono (female speaking). 


Generally speaking, there are no formalized, 
obligatory patterns of kinship behavior. Brother- 
sister avoidance, parent-in-law taboos, joking re- 
lationships, etc. are lacking. However, patterns 
of relative reserve and freedom are clearly notice- 
able between certain relatives. 

Relationships between husband and wife are 



free and easy. Sex play in the form of scratching, 
poking each other in the eyes, grooming, striking 
at each other's sexual organs, joking, etc., is pub- 
licly indulged in without concern. 

Potential husbands and wives to some extent 
share the patterns of freedom that exist between 
husband and wife. This is especially true as 
regards the relations between a man and his wife's 
sister or a woman and her husband's brother. But 
as the nearness of relationship between potential 
spouses decreases, the patterns of freedom in their 
public relations also decrease. The principal 
reason for this seems to be the. jealousies that 
arise out of too frequent sexual intercourse between 
distantly related potential spouses, which some- 
times result in fights and quarrels. On the whole, 
however, the relationships between potential 
spouses are patterned along the lines of those 
actually existing between husband and wife. 

Between parents and young children there is 
little reserve. The latter are treated very indul- 
gently and are seldom punished for breaches of 
custom. As cluldren grow older, however, they 
are expected to respect and to obey their parents, 
who treat them roughly in case they do not. A 
person's respect for his parents continues after 
marriage until the latter grow old and useless, 
after which little concern is shown for them. 

A certain reserve can also be noted in the rela- 
tionships between siblings of the opposite sex; 
this never reaches the point of avoidance, however. 
Brothers and sisters are allowed to speak freely to 
one another — and otherwise maintain cordial 
relations — but a taboo on sexual behavior between 
them is instilled in early childhood. The sexual 
taboos between brother and sister are generalized 
to include all relatives classed as siblings by the 
kinship system. 

The freest relationships of all are those between 
siblings of the same sex and of about the same age. 
From earliest childhood brothers, like sisters, 
begin to associate with each other, and the close 
bonds established at this time continue and 
strengthen throughout life. Brothers frequently 
marry sisters; they have the same potential wives; 
they hunt, fish, and plant gardens together. Con- 
versely, sisters frequently marry brothers; they 
have the same potential husbands; they collect, 
cook, and carry out household tasks together. 
Under conditions of this kind, of course, binding 
ties are formed, so that brothers often enjoy secrets 

with brothers, and sisters with sisters, that are not 
even shared by husband and wife. Thus, through- 
out life one's most intimate friend and companion 
is most likely to be one's sibling of the same sex 
and of about the same age. 

Grandparent-grandchild relationships are rare. 
When they do occur, a grandchild is supposed to 
show respect for his grandparents equal to that 
which he shows for his parents. In general, how- 
ever, grandparents have little to say about how 
grandchildren are to be raised. A grandmother 
may weave a baby sling for her grandchild, or a 
grandfather may make a toy bow and arrows for 
his grandson, but such things are more often made 
by parents than by grandparents. 

Although there are no taboos between parents- 
in-law and children-in-law, the relationships be- 
tween these relatives are the most reserved of all. 
Because of matrilocal residence a woman is able 
to avoid most direct contacts with her parents- 
in-law, but a man, while in the house, is almost 
constantly thrown into contact with his parents- 
in-law by virtue of the fact that his (and his wife's) 
hammock hangs not 3 feet from theirs, with noth- 
ing more than a few embers of fire to separate them. 
Under these intimate and frustrating circum- 
stances it is rather strange that no mother-in-law 
taboo has arisen to help in keeping peace between 
the families, but this has not happened. The fact 
of kinship ties — both husband and wife are related 
to their in-laws by blood — probably does much 
to lessen the friction that otherwise might arise 
between them. 

While overt behavior between in-laws is usually 
polite and reserved, suppressed aggression some- 
times runs high. This is particularly true in cases 
where a man is living with his mother-in-law whose 
husband is dead, for he then has to supply her 
with food without receiving anytliing in return. 
Widowed mothers-in-law have substantial appe- 
tites and contribute almost nothing to the family 
larder. Consequently their sons-in-law regard 
them as liabilities and avoid relations with them 
whenever possible. 

Artificial ties of kinship such as blood brother- 
hood and ceremonial parenthood are absent. In 
this connection, the Franciscan priest, Anselm 
Schermair (1934, p. 520), has implied that the 
Siriono possess a form of godparenthood. He 
states that the term ydnde is applied to people 
who stand in the relationship of godparent to one's 



child. Actually this is not the case. As we have 
already pointed out, the term ydnde is used to 
designate a potential spouse. What confused the 
padre and led him to mistake a potential spouse 
for a godparent is doubtless the following fact. 
In the ceremonies following childbirth, potential 
spouses of the mother — those who have had sex 
relations with her — are frequently decorated with 
feathers and undergo the rites of couvade like the 
parents themselves. This is logical enough in 
view of the fact that the Siriono recognize a very 
close relationship between parent and child and 
that one of the woman's potential husbands may, 
after all, have been responsible for the pregnancy. 
Moreover, if anything should happen to the 
parents of the child, those relatives who stand in a 
ydnde relationship, i.e., those relatives who are 
potential spouses of the parents, are responsible 
for its upbringing and its care. In view of the 
circumstances, namely, that people of the opposite 
sex who stand in the ydnde relationship have sex 
relations with one another, they can hardly be 
regarded as godparents in the usual sense of the 


Beyond the stratifications of sex and age, 
Siriono society is little differentiated as to status. 
A form of chieftainship does exist, but the pre- 
rogatives of this office are few. Such status 
divisions as castes, social classes, and specialized 
occupations are quite unknown. 

Apart from age and sex, such status differences 
as do exist depend primarily upon how the duties 
of everyday life are performed. If a man is a good 
hunter, his status is apt to be high; if he is a poor 
provider, it is apt to be low. His status as a 
hunter, moreover, is enhanced considerably by 
his being a virile sex partner; having several 
wives is a mark of distinction. A woman's status, 
too, depends not only on her being active in the 
economic pursuits of the family but on her being 
a good childbearer as well. A childless woman 
stands at the bottom of the status hierarchy 
within the family. 

Little status is gained through genealogy. 
Within the band, those people who are most 
closely related to the chief probably enjoy the 
greatest number of privileges, but I was unable to 
confirm this as an outstanding feature of Siriono 
society. It is probably true, to be sure, that the 

brother of a chief enjoys more privileges than a, 
distantly related cousin. But in a society like the 
Siriono, where the food supply is both scarce 
and insecure, a person's status necessarily depends 
more on his abdity as a provider of food than on 
any other single factor. This was clearly brought 
home to me time and time again while I was 
at Tibaera. 

One case deserves special mention. Enia (Knee) 
was the brother-in-law of Chief Eantandu. He 
had had some contact with the outside, but 
because of maltreatment had run away from his 
patron and returned to native life. He was an 
intelligent man with an unusual ability (for a 
Siriono) to adjust to white civilization. He was 
a hard worker and reliable, and he knew consider- 
able Spanish. His one weakness was that he 
could not hunt as well as his countrymen. Time 
after time I saw him leave with his bow and 
arrows, and time after time I watched him return 
empty-handed, while his fellow tribesmen left 
after him on the same trail and returned with 
game. He was generally referred to as "not 
knowing how to hunt." He was openly insulted 
at drinking feasts for his inability to hunt. He 
had lost at least one wife to better men. His 
status was low; his anxiety about hunting, high. 
He had, however, made some kind of readjustment 
to native life by planting more crops and collecting 
more forest products than the others and trading 
some of his vegetable products for meat. But 
still he was not satisfied. Noting this condition, I 
set out to raise his status. First he accompanied 
me with his bow and arrows on hunting trips. He 
carried in game which I shot, part of which was 
given to him and which we told others was shot 
by him. His status began to improve. Shortly 
thereafter I tauglit him to use a shotgun, and he 
brought in game of his own. Needless to say, when 
I left Tibaera he was enjoying the highest status, 
had acquired several new sex partners, and was 
insulting others, instead of being insulted by them. 

Several wives and numerous children are the 
principal status marks of a man. Similarly, to be 
married to a man who is a good hunter and to 
have several children are the most important 
status marks of a woman. Plural wives not only 
mark a man as a good hunter but as a virile sex 
partner as well. Men boast a great deal about 
their sexual prowess, as well as their hunting 
prowess, and in cases where they are married to 



several wives they are careful to see that only 
allowable sex partners have any relations with 
them. Consequently, when overnight trips are 
made into the forest, a man generally takes all of 
his wives with him. 

Kigidly marked age groupings are not found in 
Siriono society, although there is a recognition, as 
in most societies, of the categories of infancy, 
childhood, adulthood, and old age. Except in the 
case of the premarital rites for girls, the physi- 
ological changes that accompany maturation are 
little recognized or celebrated by special ceremony. 
As a mark of adulthood, however, men and women, 
after they are married and have children, are 
stabbed in the arms with the dorsal spine of a 
sting ray, which practice leaves scars that are signs 
of maturity. As a person grows older, blood- 
letting is continued — to rejuvenate him by getting 
rid of his old blood. The society thus seems to 
recognize that the sharpest break in age occurs 
between childhood and adulthood. The other 
transitions are very gradual and are not marked 
by ceremony. 

It is difficult to generalize as to the status of 
women. Although they are dominated by the men, 
it can hardly be said that women occupy a position 
much inferior to that of the men when one con- 
siders the conditions under which this society 
exists. During childhood there is no noticeable 
preferential treatment of boys. On the basis of the 
sex division of labor the men do as much or more 
work than the women. Hunting is exclusively a 
task of the men, while collecting and agriculture 
are joint pursuits of both men and women. 
Women enjoy about the same privileges as men. 
They get as much or more food to eat, and they 
enjoy the same sexual freedom. They are not 
restricted from holding drinking feasts and dances, 
nor from participation in bloodletting ceremonies. 
After marriage, moreover, women continue to live 
with their parents and to enjoy the latters' 


Presiding over every band of Siriono is a chief 
{ererekwa), who is at least nominally the highest 
official of the group. Although his authority 
theoretically extends throughout the band, in 
actual practice its exercise depends almost entirely 
upon his personal qualities as a leader. In any 
case, there, is no obligation to obey the orders of a 

chief, no punishment for nonfulfillment. Indeed, 
little attention is paid to what is said by a chief 
unless he is a member of one's immediate family. 
To maintain his prestige a chief must fulfill, in a 
superior fashion, those obligations required of 
everyone else. 

The prerogatives of chieftainship are few. Al- 
though the title ererekwa is reserved by the men for 
a chief, if one asks a woman, "Who is your 
ererekwa?" she will invariably reply, "My hus- 
band." The principal privilege of a chief, if it 
could be called such, is that it is his right to 
occupy, with his immediate family, the center of 
the house. Like any other man he must make his 
bows and arrows, his tools; he must hunt, fish, 
collect, and plant gardens. He makes suggestions 
as to migrations, hunting trips, etc., but these are 
not always followed by his tribesmen. As a mark 
of status, however, a chief always possesses more 
than one wife. 

While chiefs complain a great deal that other 
members of the band do not satisfy their obliga- 
tions to them, little heed is paid to their requests. 
I was told, for instance, both by Indians and by 
whites who had had contact with them, that the 
chief was entitled to a share of every catch of game 
that was made. While I was living at Tibaera, 
I had an excellent chance to check this matter 
empirically, and I found that this was not, as said, 
usually the case, but rarely so. The more general 
rule was to avoid giving the chief anything, if 

The following is an example of the sort of 
thing that was constantly occurring at Tibaera. 
Kwandu (Porcupine), a member of the band and 
extended family of Aciba-e6ko (Long-arm), the 
chief, was absent for several days with his yoimger 
brother on a hunting expedition. On returning 
to camp, they brought with them about a dozen 
tortoises of good size. These were tied up with 
lianas and hung on beams in the house, one or two 
of them being butchered each day. A6iba-e6ko, 
desiring meat, first made a direct request to 
Kwandu, but was brushed off and given nothing. 
Following this he made public remarks without 
mentioning names that mbia (countrymen) were 
keeping all the meat to themselves and not giving 
any to him, the chief. The owners of the tor- 
toises still paid no attention to him. Finally, 
after about 3 days, Aciba-e6ko, having received 
nothing, became so angry that he left for the hunt 



with his family and stayed away for about a week. 
He returned with considerable roast meat which 
he distributed to no one else but members of his 
immediate family. 

In general, however, chiefs fare better than 
other members of the band. Their requests more 
frequently bear fruit than those of others, because 
chiefs are the best hunters and are thus in a better 
position than most to reciprocate for any favors 
done them. In speaking of chiefs, both past and 
present, informants always referred to them as 
"big men." Chiefs know the most about hunting, 
about the habits of animals, about how best to 
surround a band of peccaries; they are the best 
composers of songs, the most powerful drinkers; 
they know the most about hunting tapirs and 
harpy eagles; they have the most wives and chil- 
dren. In short, chiefs know more about things 
and are able to do them better than anyone else. 
Consequently, they command more respect than 
the average man. 

Chieftainship is normally a hereditary office 
and passes patrilineally from father to eldest 
son, provided the latter is a good hunter, is mature, 
and possesses the personal qualities of leadership. 
In case an eligible son is lackiug, the office may 
pass to the chief's brother. It so happens that 
the chiefs whom I knew had both inherited the 
office from their fathers. One of them told me, 
however, that were he to die the office would be 
inherited by his younger brother, because he had 
no eligible son to whom it could pass. 


The legal system by means of which the rela- 
tions between band members are governed is not 
an elaborate one. In such a simple society as that 
of the Siriono, most members of which are united 
by ties of blood, only a small body of customary 
law is needed to maintain what order does exist. 
Moreover, the social norms that prevail are elastic 
enough to allow for a considerable range of be- 
havior, depending upon the immediate conditions 
of life. Thus, although one of the important legal 
norms is that of sharing food within the extended 
family, such sharing rarely occurs unless the sup- 
ply of food is abundant. Frequently, in fact, 
food sharing does not go beyond the nuclear 
family, even though the quantity of food may be 
more than adequate to take care of immediate 
needs. Under such conditions, one may be 

accused of hoarding food, but the other members 
of the extended family can do little about it except 
to go out and look for their own. 

Within this society, the formal agencies of social 
control are almost entirely lacking. No such 
thing as a police force exists, and, as we have al- 
ready seen, chieftainship, although theoretically 
an office of some power and distinction, is actually 
relatively unimportant as a means of controlling 
behavior. A chief does not interfere in the dis- 
putes of others, and when involved in disputes of 
his own, others pay little attention to them. 
Sorcery, moreover, is almost unknown as a means 
of social control. The handling of one's affairs is 
thus largely an individual matter; everyone is 
expected to stand up for his own rights and to 
fulfill his own obligations. 

In spite of the extreme individualism of the 
Siriono in this respect, there are, nevertheless, 
certain incentives to conform to the legal norms 
that do exist. If, for instance, a person does 
share food with a kinsman, he has the right to 
expect some in return, and if a man does occa- 
sionally share his wife with a brother, he has the 
right occasionally to share that brother's wife. 
Reciprocity, however, is almost always forced, and 
is sometimes even hostile. One usually has to 
demand something in return for that which one 
has reluctantly given. Indeed, sharing rarely 
occurs without a certain amount of mutual dis- 
trust and misunderstanding; a person always feels 
that it is he who is being taken advantage of. 
Nevertheless, this type of forced reciprocity does 
seem to be one of the principal rewards of con- 

So intense is the individualism of the Siriono 
and so elastic the legal system, that crime and 
punishment are rare. Murder is not condoned 
but is almost unknown. Only two cases, both 
of which happened a number of years ago, came to 
my attention. In one of these a man killed his 
wife with his bow and arrow during a drinking 
feast, and in the second a man killed his sister by 
throwing a club at her from a tree. In both 
instances the murderers were banished (or left) 
the band for a considerable time, but they returned 
later and resumed normal life. 

Cases of premeditated murder were unknown. 
Informants told me, however, that under circum- 
stances of this kind the lex talionis would be rigidly 
applied. Accidental homicide is not punished, 



and other offenses against life, such as abortion 
and infanticide, seem to be unknown. 

Minor assaults, resulting from quarrels that 
take place over food and sex or from those that 
arise during drinking feasts, are relatively common. 
Wliile physical aggression against one another 
during quarrels meets with a certain amount of 
public disapproval, it usually goes unpunished. 
Assaults, however, often result in strained rela- 
tions between the parties involved for some time 
after they happen. 

The absence of rigidity in standards of morality 
makes for relatively few offenses in the realm of 
sex. Such crimes as incest and rape are rare. 
When they do occur, they are believed to be 
followed by an automatic supernatural sanction: 
the offender becomes sick or dies. Adultery, on 
the other hand, is common, and if committed 
discreetly frequently goes unpunished. If adul- 
tery occurs too often, however, an irate husband 
casts out his wife and she becomes subject to 
public ridicule. She is accused of being ecimbdsi, 
i. e., of having too strong sex desires. 

Theft is unknown, except in the realm of food. 
Even the stealing of food rarely occurs because the 
conditions giving rise to the crime seldom exist: 
food is not plentiful, and one's immediate supply 
is hastily eaten. Some theft of food takes place 
at night, especially by the aged, but in instances 
of this kind the guilty parties receive no other 
punishment than that of being publicly accused 
of the crime, which they always emphatically 

Justice is an informal and private matter. 
Grievances are settled between the individuals 
involved, or among the members of the family 
in which they occur. Generally speaking, it 
would seem that the maintenance of law and order 
rests largely on the principal of reciprocity (how- 
ever forced), the fear of supernatural sanctions 
and retaliation, and the desire for public approval. 


One cannot remain long with the Siriono without 
noting that quarreling and wrangling are ubiqui- 
tous. Hardly a day passes among them when a 
dispute of some kind does not break out. Quarrels 
are especially common between husband and wife, 
between cowives, between sons-in-law and parents- 
in-law, and between children of an extended 
family, but they occur between all types of people, 

794440 — 50 5 

relatives and nonrelatives. Quarrels are usually 
settled between the disputants who start them. 
This is especially true of those which take place in 
the nuclear and extended families. If a man is 
quarreling with his wife or mother-in-law, for in- 
stance, other people seldom intervene. If two 
members of different extended families become in- 
volved in a quarrel, however, relatives of the dis- 
putants may come to their aid. Children, for 
example, are frequently observed striking women 
with whom their mothers are quarreling, and 
brothers often come to each other's aid if they 
get involved in a quarrel outside of the family. 
The Siriono, however, maintain no arbiter of 
disputes. The chief, for instance, seldom takes 
part in settling differences that occur outside of his 

Data were recorded on 75 disputes that came to 
my attention, apart from those that took place at 
drinking feasts. It is significant to note that 44 
of them arose directly over questions of food 
(mostly between women or between husband and 
wife); 19 broke out over questions of sex (between 
husband and wife, cowives, and women); only 12 
were assignable to various other causes. Here we 
have overwhelming evidence of the important role 
played by food in Siriono society. It is the most 
prominent cause of ingroup strife. 

People constantly complain and quarrel about 
the distribution of food. They accuse each other 
of not sharing food, of hoarding food, of eating at 
night, and of stealing off into the forest to eat. 
This was particularly noticeable at Tibaera, 
where Silva and I made considerable effort to 
initiate cooperative planting of gardens — a custom 
foreign to the Siriono under aboriginal conditions. 
Several acres of land were cooperatively cleared 
and planted with maize. While the maize was 
ripening, bitter complaints were registered, and 
quarrels took place over its distribution, although 
there was plenty of maize for everyone. People 
accused each other of stealing maize before it was 
ripe, of harvesting more than they had a right to, 
of transporting it into the forest and eating it on 
the sly. Men complained that they had done 
most of the work, while the women were eating 
most of the crop. In fact, few men ventured on 
the hunt at this time for fear of returning to find 
that others had eaten most of the crop of maize. 

Quarreling over the allotment of meat is equally 
common. While the distribution of meat is ordi- 



narily confined to the extended family because 
the supply is seldom abundant, there is usually 
someone within the family who feels that he is 
not getting his share. Especially do the men 
accuse the women of hoarding meat, of eating it 
when the men are not around, or of consuming 
more than their share. Enia said to me one night, 
"When someone comes near the house, women 
hide the meat; they cover it with leaves. When 
you ask them where the meat is they tell you 
there is none. They eat in the night and steal 
oft' in the forest to eat." 

The reluctance to share meat is clearly re- 
flected in the behavior of returning hunters. 
The bigger the catch the more sullen the hunter. 
The hunter adopts this pose so as not to be ap- 
proached for game. On returning from the hunt 
a man sometimes does not even carry his game 
into the house but leaves it beside the trail near 
the house and comes in empty-handed, aggressive, 
and angry. Upon entering the house he throws 
himself into the hammock. This is the signal for 
his wife or whoever else is around to bring him a 
pipeful of tobacco, which he smokes without 
saying a word. If he has brought the game into 
the house, his wife sets about to prepare it; if it 
is still out in the forest, she goes out to retrieve it. 
The hunter maintains his unapproachable manner 
until after the game has been cooked and eaten. 

Quarrels over sex can hardly be divorced from 
those over food. In this respect men seldom 
express aggression against other men who have 
seduced their wives but center it on their adul- 
terous wives. Women, on the other hand, 
express little aggression against their adulterous 
husbands but channel it against the women who 
have caused their husbands to err. Women are 
thus believed to be the cause of most sexual 
disputes. Women may chide their husbands for 
being unfaithful, but the fact that the men always 
respond with more violent accusations that the 
women are unfaithful usually settles the dispute 
before it culminates in a violent end. 

Drinking feasts are occasions on which much 
latent antagonism and aggression are expressed 
between men. At these feasts men openly air 
their complaints, whether these have to do with 
food, with sex, or with any other subject of con- 
tention. The disputes are settled by wrestling 
matches, and are usually forgotten after the period 
of drunkenness is over. It is interesting to note 

that aggression at drinking feasts is limited to 
wrestling matches; any other type of fighting is 
frowned upon and is usually stopped by non- 
participant men and women. On one occasion 
Eantandu, when drunk, struck an opponent with 
his fists. Everyone began to clamor that he was 
fighting unfairly, "like a white man." He stopped 

Except at drinking feasts antagonisms seldom 
lead to violence, and even at these the partici- 
pants are usually so drunk that they are unable to 
harm one another. On other occasions strong 
words are used between disputants, but fighting 
with weapons and clubs is rare. This is especially 
true of the men, who seldom express direct aggres- 
sion against each other, although among women 
quarrels frequently culminate in battles with 
digging sticks. 

Men often dissipate their anger toward other 
men by hunting. One day Eantandu was angry 
with Mbiku who had hunted coati and given him 
none. Flushed with anger, Eantandu picked up 
his bow and arrows and departed for the hunt. 
When he returned about 5 hours later with a couple 
of small monkeys, his wrath had subsided con- 
siderably. He told me that when men are angry 
they go hunting. If they shoot any game their 
anger disappears; even if they do not kill anything 
they return home too tired to be angry. 

If enmity between families becomes intense, one 
of them may migrate to the forest for a while until 
hostile feelings subside; if it becomes unbearable, 
one of them may split off from the band and join 
another band, or several extended families may 
break off from the band and start a new band of 
their own. Seldom are differences so deep and 
lasting, however, that this latter method of adjust- 
ment need be resorted to. 


Contrary to popular misconception the Siriono 
are not a warlike people. In this respect such 
writers as Nordenskiold (1911, vol. 57, pp. 16-17) 
have created a distorted picture of them. War- 
fare between bands simply does not exist, and 
where the Siriono have come in contact with other 
peoples, Indian or white, it is they who have been 
raided and rarely they who have done the raiding. 
In fact, the entire history of the Siriono, from what 
little we know about it, seems to reflect a strategy 
of retreat rather than one of attack. Whenever 



they have come in contact with other groups, they 
have been forced to retire deeper and deeper into 
the impenetrable jungle in order to escape defeat, 
and in retiring from previously occupied lands they 
seem to have made few firm stands in defense of 
their territory. 

The distribution of the Siriono today seems 
clearly to bear witness to this policy of withdrawal 
in the face of contact. The aboriginal groups that 
still survive are spread over an extremely wide 
area, and they are located in isolated pockets of 
forest lands that are most inaccessible and least 
desirable, where they have no contiguous relations 
with one another and where they are surrounded 
by hostile peoples. Only the fact that the Siriono 
adhere to a semmomadic mode of existence and 
that the unpopulated lands of eastern Bolivia are 
still extensive and relatively rich in food plants 
and animals has made it possible for the few of 
them who still survive in the forests to stay 
beyond the reach of civilization and extinction. 

The best evidence we have for the relatively 
unwarlike character of the Siriono comes from the 
culture itself. Here are not found the organiza- 
tion, the numbers, or the weapons with which to 
wage war, aggressive or defensive. Moreover, 
war does not seem to be glorified in any way by 
the culture. The child is not educated in the art of 
war, nor is there a warrior class among the adults. 
Furthermore, the care with which the Siriono avoid 
contacts with other peoples and the fear with which 
they regard their more warlike neighbors bear 
witness to the punishment they have suffered as a 
group in the past. 

Attention should be called, however, to the fact 
that on occasions the Siriono have retaliated for 
outbreaks against them by others. While they 
seem rarely, if ever, to have responded to the 
attacks made upon them from the south by the 

so-called Yanaiguas, and from the north by the 
Baure, for the purpose of killing their men and 
capturing their women and children, they have 
sporadically killed whites and missionized Guara- 
yos Indians (with bows and arrows), both in 
retaliation for killings and for the purpose of 
securing iron tools and food. The warlike repu- 
tation of the Siriono, in fact, seems to have 
grown up as a result of these few isolated and 
unorganized raids, which reached their peak during 
the last rubber boom (in the 1920's) when there 
was a large influx of rubber tappers into some of 
the areas occupied by them. The siringueros, 
whenever possible, ruthlessly murdered the In- 
dians, who in turn occasionally retaliated by way- 
laying a rubber worker and dispatching him for 
his machetes and axes. But when the rubber boom 
ended in 1928, by which time the Siriono were 
probably in possession of an adequate supply of 
tools, most of the whites left the area and the 
raids stopped. Shortly thereafter peaceful con- 
tact was established by a few of the whites who 
remained in the region. Today the Siriono who 
wander in the vicinity of the Franciscan missions 
of Guarayos occasionally steal maize and manioc 
from the gardens adjoining them, but people are 
seldom killed as a result of these forays. Generally 
speaking, when the Guarayos have contacts with 
the Siriono, relations are cordial. 

The enemies which the Siriono most fear today 
are the so-called Yanaiguas, who harass them in 
the south, and a small group of what are probably 
wild Baure, who sometimes attack them in the 
north. Almost nothing is known of these two 
groups of Indians, except that they are unfriendly 
and warlike. Both tribes are equated by the 
Siriono under one term, kurukwa, a kind of 
monster, and are carefully avoided by them 
whenever possible. 



Romantic love is a concept foreign to the 
Siriono. Sex, like hunger, is a drive to be satisfied. 
Consequently, it is neither much inhibited by 
attitudes of modesty and decorum, nor much 
enhanced by ideals of beauty and charm. The 
expression secubi ("I like") is applied indiscrimi- 

•Considerable material relating to sexual behavior was expurgated frcm 
the original manuscript. — Editob. 

nately to everything that is enjoyable, whether it 
be food to eat, a necklace to wear, or a woman. 

Although love is not idealized in any romantic 
way, there are certain ideals of erotic bliss, and a 
certain amount of affection exists between the 
sexes. This is clearly reflected in the behavior 
that takes place around the hammock. Couples 
frequently indulge in such horseplay as scratching 
and pinching each other on the neck and chest, 



and poking fingers in each other's eyes. Lovers 
also spend hours in grooming one another: ex- 
tracting lice from their hair or wood ticks from 
their bodies, and eating them; removing worms 
and spines from their skin; gluing feathers into 
their hair; and covering their faces with uruku 
(Bira orellana) paint. 

Since privacy is almost impossible to obtain 
within the hut where as many as 50 hammocks 
may be hung in the confined space of 500 square 
feet, more intercourse takes place in the bush 
than in the house. Relations also occur at night 
in the hammock, but more rarely so. 

Generally speaking, great freedom is allowed in 
matters of sex. A man is permitted to have 
intercourse not only with his own wife or wives 
but also with her (their) sisters, real and classi- 
ficatory. Conversely, a woman is allowed to have 
intercourse not only with her husband but also 
with his brothers, real and classificatory, and 
with the husbands and potential husbands of her 
own and classificatory sisters. Thus apart from 
one's real spouse, there may be as many as 8 or 10 
potential spouses with whom one may have 
relations. There is, moreover, no taboo on 
relations between unmarried potential spouses, 
provided the women have undergone the rites of 
maturity. Virginity is not a virtue. Conse- 
quently, unmarried adults rarely lack sexual 
partners. In actual practice, relations between 
a man and his own brothers' wives, and between 
a woman and her own sisters' husbands, occur 
frequently and without censure, but those with 
potential spouses more distantly related occur 
less often and are apt to result in quarrels or lead 
to divorce. 

Food is one of the best lures for obtaining extra- 
marital sex partners, and a man often uses game 
as a means of seducing a potential wife. Failures 
in this respect result not so much from a reluctance 
on the part of a woman to yield to a potential 
husband who will give her game, but more from 
an unwillingness on the part of the man's own 
wife or wives to part with any of the meat that 
he has acquired, least of all to one of his potential 
wives. In general, the wife supervises the distri- 
bution of meat, so that if any part of her hus- 
band's catch is missing she suspects him of 
carrying on an affair on the outside, which is 
grounds for dispute. Hence, instead of attempt- 

ing to distribute meat to a potential wife after 
game has already been brought in from the forest, 
a man may send in some small animal or a piece 
of game to the woman tlirough an intermediary, 
and thus reward her for the favors he has already 
received or expects to receive in the future. 

Fights and quarrels over sex are common but 
occur less often than fights over food. As has 
been pointed out, such quarrels arise largely as a 
result of too much attention to a potential spouse 
to the neglect of the actual spouse; this is really 
what adultery amounts to among the Siriono. 
However much men are chided by their wives for 
deceiving them, this seems to have little effect 
on their behavior, for they are constantly on the 
alert for a chance to approach a potential wife, or 
to carry on an affair with a yukwdki (young girl) 
who has passed through the rites of puberty. In 
plural marriages, however, I rarely noted pro- 
nounced jealousy between the wives, possibly 
because most plural marriages are of the sororal 

In all these relations, basic incest taboos must 
be strictly observed. That is to say, it is strictly 
forbidden to have intercourse with any member of 
one's nuclear family, except one's spouse. Among 
the Siriono these incest taboos are generalized to 
include nonfamily members who are designated 
by the same kinship terms as those used for mem- 
bers of the nuclear family. Consequently, one 
may not have relations with a parallel cousin, 
with the child of a sibling of the same sex, with 
the child of a parallel cousin of the same sex, with 
a sister or parallel cousin of the mother, with 
a brother or parallel cousin of the father, or with 
the child of anyone whom one calls "potential 
spouse." In addition to these taboos, which are 
clearly reflected hi the kinship system, relations 
with the following relatives are also regarded as 
incestuous: Grandparent and grandchild, parent- 
in-law and child-in-law, uncle and niece, aunt 
and nephew, a woman and her mother's brother's 
son, and a man and his father's sister's daughter. 
Violations of incest taboos are believed to be 
punished by the supernatural sanction of sickness 
and death. However, I never heard of a case of 
incest occurring among the Siriono, even in 
mythology. The reason for this probably lies in 
the fact that the sex drive is rarely frustrated to 



such an extent that one is tempted to commit 

Atypical sex behavior is also rare. Insofar as 
I could tell, only one man showed any tendency 
toward homosexuality, but this never reached the 
point of overt expression. He had never had a 
wife, and spent most of his time with the women. 
He lived next to his only brother, was regarded 
as harmless, and made his living largely by collect- 
ing and trading some of his products for meat. 
Another man was accused by the women of being 
sadistic and for this reason had no wife. His 
nickname was Etoni (Lazy), one which he had 
received because of the following ingenious device. 
He was an expert at tracking tortoises. He would 
gather as many as 10 of them at a time and hang 
them up alive on a beam in the house. He would 
then butcher one or two each day, meanwhile 
resting in his hammock, until the supply was gone. 
He spent long periods of time alone in the forest, 
and was one of the few Siriono out of whom I 
could worm no information whatsoever. 

Chastity not being a virtue, there are few occa- 
sions when sex is taboo among the Siriono. Dur- 
ing menstruation sex relations are forbidden, but 
during pregnancy they are recommended and 
indulged hi up until shortly before delivery. 
Following childbirth, a woman refrains from inter- 
course for about a month, but there is no pre- 
scribed period after delivery that she must abstain. 
Following the death of a spouse, a widow or 
widower may resume sex relations within a matter 
of 3 days. There are, moreover, no other ritual 
or ceremonial occasions when adults are restricted 
from participation in sexual activity. 


With respect to conception, there is no lack of 
knowledge that it is caused by sexual intercourse. 
All informants agreed that a woman could have a 
child by no other means. But no crystallized 
theories of how the process takes place have been 
formulated. Constant interviewing on this sub- 
ject yielded nothing but negative results. 

The relationship between menstruation and 
pregnancy is also clearly recognized by the 
Siriono, but again their ideas on these matters 
have not attained crystallized form. Informants 
were convinced that women had to menstruate 
before they could have children, but they were 
unable to supply any of the reasons why. My 

investigation on these questions, moreover, led me 
to the conclusion that the Siriono do not correlate 
the menstrual cycle with the lunar cycle in any 
special way. 

In a certain sense a distinction is made between 
menstrual blood and ordinary body blood. The 
former is always designated as ereN eruki (vagina 
blood), while the latter is simply referred to by the 
general term eruki or "blood." What the differ- 
ences between them are, however, the Siriono are 
quite unable to explain except in the vaguest sense. 
Contact with menstrual blood, especially in 
sexual intercourse, is regarded as harmful, while 
contact with ordinary body blood is considered 

Although menstrual blood is looked upon as 
something dangerous to the Siriono, they have not 
developed attitudes of disgust or horror toward it. 
During menstruation women wear nothing; they 
are neither isolated from the rest of the group nor 
restricted from participation in such household 
activities as cooking that bring them into intimate 
contact with other people. While menstruating 
women bathe more often during the menstrual 
period than at other times, they are not subject to 
food taboos and are not even required to sleep 
apart, although no sexual intercourse is indulged 
in at this time. All of my male informants told me 
that they had never had intercourse with a men- 
struating woman and that to do so was very 
dangerous, but there were varied opinions as to 
what might happen to those who did. It was 
generally thought that they would become "blood 
sick" and die. 

One of the principal signs of pregnancy is the 
cessation of the menses. If a woman has never 
before been pregnant, however, some doubt may 
be expressed as to whether she is going to have a 
child until her breasts begin to swell. 

Few other signs of pregnancy seem to be recog- 
nized. An extended abdomen is an unreliable 
sign; most of the Siriono women have distended 
stomachs from the habit of overeating when they 
can. Morning sickness also does not seem to be 
regarded as a pregnancy sign ; at least, I was unable 
to get any recognition of it or observe any cases 
of it among the pregnant women whom I inter- 

In some cases a woman may know that she is 
pregnant because she has dreamed it. One morn- 
ing Eantindu told me that his wife was with child. 



Since she showed no outward signs of her condi- 
tion, I asked her how she knew that this was true. 
She replied that she was certain of it because the 
night before she had had a dream that she had a 
very small child inside of her. Upon interviewing 
her further, however, I found that this dream 
merely corroborated excellent physiological evi- 
dence for her pregnancy, namely, that she had 
not menstruated for some time. 

Once a woman is pregnant, the Siriono have no 
methods of divining the sex of the child or of 
forecasting the time of its delivery. When first 
conceived, the child is believed to bo a miniature 
replica of the infant at the time it is born, and 
intercourse is thought to stimulate the growth 
of the infant in the mother's womb. Thus inter- 
course is desirable throughout pregnancy. 

Except for being subject to certain food taboos, 
the normal life of a woman is little upset during 
pregnancy. She goes about her regular work 
until shortly before the time of her delivery. She 
may not eat coati lest the infant be born with 
sores and a very long head. The guan, the howler 
monkey, the macaw, and the toucan are taboo 
on the grounds that if they are eaten the infant 
will cry a great deal when it is born. Likewise 
forbidden is the meat of the armadillo. A viola- 
tion of this taboo will cause the infant to have 
great fear like the armadillo, which crosses its 
arms in its hole when it is caught. Other for- 
bidden foods include the owl monkey, whose 
meat cannot be eaten lest the infant inherit its 
tendency not to sleep at night; the anteater, 
porcupine, and honey bear, lest the infant be born 
clubfooted; the jaguar, lest the infant be still- 
born; turtle eggs, lest the mother have a mis- 
carriage or be unable to deliver the infant and die; 
and the harpy eagle, because it is taboo for all 
people except the aged. 

Some of these food taboos are generalized 
to the father, but not all of them. The only ones 
which he usually observes are the restrictions on 
eating harpy eagle, anteater, and howler monkey, 
which in a strict sense are not pregnancy taboos, 
since these animals are never supposed to be eaten 
by anyone, but an old person. However, these 
food taboos seem to be more carefully observed 
by the men when their wives are pregnant. 

Both the pregnant woman and her husband are 
also careful not to eat a double ear of corn or a 
double root of manioc lest twins be born. They 

likewise avoid eating twisted or deformed plants 
of any kind lest this characteristic be transferred 
to their offspring in the form of clubfeet. 

A woman's diet during pregnancy, however, is 
not much reduced by the above-mentioned food 
taboos. She is allowed to eat all vegetable foods, 
fruits, and fish. In addition, she still has a wide 
selection among meat foods, of which the follow- 
ing are the principal ones: tortoise, turtle, curas- 
sow, duck, cormorant, spider monkey, capuchin 
monkey, squirrel, peccary, tapir, agouti, capybara, 
paca, alligator, hawk, vulture, and marsh deer. 
Such animals as the tapir and peccary are espe- 
cially favored because they are regarded as valiant 
and industrious, and if their flesh is eaten one's 
children will grow up to be like them. 

Neither abortion nor infanticide is practiced, 
and miscarriages seem rarely to occur under 
aboriginal conditions. During my residence in 
Casarabe, however, where the Indians were living 
under rather brutal conditions of forced labor, 
three instances of miscarriage came to my atten- 
tion. These were caused, according to my native 
informants, by the fact that the pregnant women 
were compelled to work beyond their endurance. 
Under aboriginal conditions, however, miscar- 
riages are generally attributed to the breaking of 
food taboos, such as the eating of turtle or tortoise 
eggs. In the case of a miscarriage, the infant and 
all remains of the birth are thrown away into the 
bush without ceremony, but the mother and 
father must undergo a 3-day period of mourning, 
in which they are scarified on the legs and feathers 
are put in their hair. 

To prevent the occurrence of miscarriage a 
woman must be careful not to eat the flesh of an 
animal to which some parallel experience has 
happened. One day Ndekai, one of my male 
informants, had several tortoises hanging by lianas 
from a beam in the house. Early in the morning 
of the following day it was found that one of these 
tortoises had "dropped" her eggs on the floor 
during the night, and that they were broken. 
The tortoise was cooked and eaten immediately, 
but Ndekai's wife would have no part of the flesh. 
She told me that if she partook of any of this 
tortoise she would have a miscarriage — that she 
would "drop" her child in the same manner as 
the tortoise had "dropped" its eggs. 

The Siriono also recognize that under extreme 
conditions of fright miscarriages are more likely 



to occur. One interesting instance of this kind, 
although it was not observed by me, came to my 
attention while I was living in Tibaera. Sometime 
in 1938 one of the amphibian planes of Lloyd Aereo 
Boliviano, the Bolivian national airline, got lost 
in a storm between Cochabamba and Trinidad 
and for lack of gas was forced to land on an 
uncharted lake in the Siriono country. It so 
happened that Eresa-eanta (Strong-eyes), his five 
wives, and their children were camped on this 
lake at the time, hunting, fishing, and tending a 
small garden plot which he cultivated there. It 
was probably the first time that an unacculturated 
Siriono had ever seen an airplane; in any event, 
Eresa-eanta and his family were unacquainted 
with such a phenomenon. 

As Eresa-eanta described the event to me, he 
was returning from the hunt late one afternoon to 
his house, which was situated near the shores of 
the lake, when he heard a buzzing sound some 
distance away. As it became louder he got 
frightened and hurried on to the house. When he 
arrived there, he saw a huge ngidadisa (harpy 
eagle, his term for the plane) swooping down on the 
lake. When it had settled, people got out of its 
"stomach." He and his family were immediately 
seized with terrific fright and took to the bush, 
carrying with them nothing but their hammocks 
and fire. Upon arriving at a water hole some 
distance away, they were overcome by darkness 
and were forced to camp for the night. Sometime 
during the night, one of his wives who was preg- 
nant — Kire was her name, and she verified the 
story — had a miscarriage, "because she had great 
fear." The remains of this abnormal birth were 
thrown away into the bush. On the following day 
Eresa-eanta's wives proceeded to another camp, 
while he cautiously approached the lake again to 
pick up some of the supplies left there. Upon 
arriving, he found that "ngidadisa" was still there, 
and he watched it for some time while hidden in 
the brush near the shore. Before noon of the same 
day the "father" of the "ngidadisa," i. e., a larger 
plane, flew over the spot but left immediately. 
Eresa-eanta remained concealed in the brush. 
Later in the afternoon a "brother" of the first 
"ngidadisa," i. e., a plane like it, circled overhead 
and landed near it. This also had people in its 
"belly." After the people conversed for some time, 
both of the planes went off together, and he never 
saw them again. He said that he returned to his 

family the same afternoon, but that he did not 
come back to the lake for a long time afterward. 
More than 3 years later I had the good fortune to 
spend considerable time with one of the worried 
passengers of that plane, Senor Medardo Solares 
A., who substantially confirmed the events as 
recounted to me by Eresa-eanta. 


Childbirth normally takes place in the hut and 
is a public event. Births are well attended by 
women and children but rarely by the men, who 
display little interest in such matters. If a birth 
takes place during the day, even the prospective 
father will not be present because, as soon as a 
woman begins to feel birth pangs she notifies her 
husband and he departs for the hunt to seek a 
name for the child. 5 

The coming of labor pains necessitates certain 
preparations for the birth. These are usually 
made by the woman herself. Since parturition 
takes place in the hammock, she ties a rope (eco- 
seko-sdkwa, "childbirth rope") above it, so as to 
have something secure to grasp during labor. She 
also loosens the hard ground under the hammock 
with a digging stick so that the child will have a 
soft bed on which to be born. Sometimes she also 
spreads ashes over the soft earth further to cushion 
the newborn infant. Having finished these prep- 
arations the woman lies down in the hammock 
where she awaits the birth with grunts and groans 
to which her tribesmen pay little attention. 

Of the eight births which I had the good fortune 
to witness among the Siriono, four took place 
during the day and four at night. In the former 
cases the mothers received no help whatever, either 
during the preparations for the births or during 
the births themselves. In the other four cases the 
husbands assisted to the extent of setting fire to a 
few dried leaves of motacu palm in order to light 
up the immediate environs of the hammock, but 
beyond this they gave no help . At all of the births 
a crowd of women were present, standing by or 
sitting in adjoining hammocks, gossiping about 
what it was like when they had their last child or 
speculating as to whether the prospective child 
would be a boy or a girl. Not a move was made 
by these onlookers to assist the parturient women, 
except in one case when twins were born. 

1 See Naming, p. 74. 



In all of the births which I witnessed, except 
that of the twins, the mothers had no difficulty 
in delivery. The time of labor varied from 1 to 
3 hours, but never extended beyond that limit. 
In all instances the babies were born head first. 

To exert force during labor a woman grasps the 
rope strung above her hammock. The infant, in 
being born, slides off the outside strings of the 
hammock on to the soft earth below. Since ham- 
mocks are not hung more than a few inches above 
the floor, the shock to the infant of falling to the 
ground is not great, yet it is probably sufficient 
to start it breathing and induce it to show other 
signs of life. In no case did I see an infant slapped 
to give it life. All of them started breathing im- 
mediately after the shock of birth. 

Immediately after the birth the mother gets out 
of her hammock and kneels on the floor to one 
side of the infant until the afterbirth is expelled. 
In all of the cases which I witnessed the after- 
birth was expelled in a matter of 10 minutes, but 
if a woman experiences any difficulty in this 
matter she is pounded on the back until it does 
come out. 

The proceedings which follow depend to some 
extent upon whether the birth takes place at 
night, when the father is present, or during the 
day, when he is off on the hunt. If the father is 
present the umbilical cord is cut at once; if not, 
the mother must await his arrival. The cord is 
cut by the father with a bamboo knife. After 
taking a bath he squats on the floor by the in- 
fant. The mother then hands him a piece of 
bamboo, and while she holds the cord away from 
the placenta, he cuts it about 4 inches from the 
placental end. After this the mother holds up 
the cord and the father cuts off a section about 6 
inches in length, which is tied to the under side 
of the hammock to prevent the infant from crying. 
The remainder of the cord, about S inches, is left, 
attached to the infant and is not tied. After all 
of these proceedings, during which not a word is 
said, the father returns to his hammock to com- 
mence the observance ot the couvade. If he has 
not been present at the birth, the same customs 
are followed after he returns from the hunt. 

Immediately after the afterbirth has been ex- 
pelled, the mother picks up the newborn infant 
and begins to scrape the dirt and ashes from its 
skin and hair with her hands. While thus clean- 
ing the baby she also slightly presses its head from 

front to back, and its hips inward, so as to make 
it etura (beautiful). For a couple of days im- 
mediately following childbirth, about every half 
hour or so, the mother can be observed pressing 
the infant's head and hips in this fashion to make 
it beautiful. Having cleaned the baby she gives 
it a perfunctory bath, from a calabash, after which 
it is offered suck — usually less than half an hour 
after birth. 

After the baby has been bathed and suckled, 
the mother begins to clean up the afterbirth 
which lies under the hammock. No one but she 
has any contact with this bloody mess. She sits 
on the ground with the baby in her arms and 
with one hand scrapes up all evidence of the birth 
into a pile. This is shoved temporarily into a 
hole in the ground or placed in a basket, and 
about 2 weeks later is taken deep into the bush 
and thrown away. A mother sits on the ground, 
tending her baby, for about 8 hours following the 
birth before she again enters her hammock. 

For about 3 days following childbirth the 
Siriono family undergoes a series of observances 
and rites which we may loosely term the couvade. 
These rites are designed to protect the life of the 
infant and to insure its good health. Not only 
is the infant believed to be extremely delicate 
during the period immediately following birth, 
and thus readily subject to disease and death, 
but it is thought still intimately to be connected 
with the parents and profoundly to be affected by 
their activities. Consequently the latter are 
restricted in various ways. Except for satisfying 
the calls of nature they do not move outside of 
the house. They stay close to their hammocks, 
and are subject to a number of food taboos. 
Neither jaguar nor coati is eaten lest the infant 
break out with sores all over its body; paca 
cannot be eaten or the infant may lose its hair; 
papaya cannot be eaten lest the infant become a 
victim of diarrhea. Parents do not suffer much 
during this period, however, as there is a long list 
of foods which they can eat: guan, agouti, mon- 
key, tapir, deer, peccary, tortoise, fish, manioc, 
maize, etc. Some informants told me that maize 
was taboo during the couvade period — to prevent 
the infant from having pains in the stomach — but 
since I never saw this taboo observed it is probably 
not a functioning one. 

More important than the abstinence from 
certain foods is the canying out of certain other 



practices that must follow the birth of every 
baby. On the day after the birth both parents 
are scarified on the upper and lower legs with the 
eye tooth of a rat or a squirrel. Usually the 
father is scratched first. No particular relative 
or person is responsible for performing this opera- 
tion, though in the case of the mother it is usually 
done by the husband. Before the husband is 
scarified he puts on a necklace or two of coati 
teeth and winds the new baby sling, which has 
been covered with uruku, around his neck. He 
stands by his hammock during the operation. 
The person doing the scarifying squats down and 
makes long scratches on the outside of the upper 
legs from the hips to the knees and on the back 
and outside of the lower legs from the knees to the 
ankles. As these scratches are relatively super- 
ficial, not a great deal of blood flows. Immedi- 
ately after the operation is finished the legs are 
washed and covered with uruku. 

After the husband has been scarified, he removes 
the baby sling and the necklaces; the mother then 
puts these on and undergoes the same operation, 
usually at the hands of her husband. While the 
mother is being scarified, the baby is left lying 
in the hammock or is held by a cowife or sister. 
According to the Siriono, this practice of scratch- 
ing the legs has the purpose of getting rid of old 
blood, which might cause the child to be sick. 
It might thus be regarded as a purification rite. 

Except during the scarification rite the parents 
stay close to their hammocks on the day following 
the birth, the father resting and the mother attend- 
ing the infant. They do little cooking themselves, 
but are fed by other members of the extended 
family. There is, however, no taboo on their 
doing some cooking, and occasionally one sees a. 
mother or father roasting an ear of corn or a root 
of manioc in the fire at this time. 

The most significant thing that happens to the 
infant on the day following its birth is that it gets 
its first haircut in the traditional style of the band. 
This consists in depilating the forehead to a high 
semicircle. Since this operation is a very painful 
one, the mother usually pulls out a few hairs 
at a time and then lets the infant calm down 
for a half hour or so before continuing the opera- 
tion. Actually it is a very frustrating experience 
for the young baby, who struggles its utmost to 
avoid the pain. Nevertheless, by the end of the 
second day the infant is without eyebrows, and 

794440 — 50 — —6 

the hair on the front part of its head has been 
pulled out. The removed hair is saved, wrapped 
in cotton string, and covered with beeswax. It is 
then made into a necklace, which the mother ties 
around her neck to promote the growth of the 
infant's hah. 

The second day after the birth of the child is 
spent in ornamenting the parents with feathers. 
Both are decorated hi exactly the same way. A 
cowife or potential wife of the father usually 
performs the task. Again the man is usually 
decorated first. After the hair is trimmed, red 
and yellow feathers of the toucan are glued into 
the hair at the front of the head, tufts of curassow 
down covered with uruku are glued into the hair 
over the ears, and tufts of breast down of the 
harpy eagle, (also covered with uruku) are glued 
into the hair at the back of the head. In addition 
to these feather ornaments in the hair, both 
parents are decorated with new cotton string 
covered with uruku. This is wound around the 
legs just below the knees, around the arms above 
the elbows, and around the neck. The face, 
arms, and legs are then smeared with uruku and 
the decoration is complete. 

These decorations are sometimes applied to other 
members of the family, especially to a cowife or, 
in the case of a multiple birth, to either the cowife 
or sister of the mother who is designated to take 
immediate care of one of the babies. In such in- 
stances the cowives are decorated in the same 
fashion as the parents. In two of the cases which 
I observed, boys of about the age of puberty and 
standing in the ydnde or potential spouse relation- 
ship to the mother also underwent the same cere- 
monies as the father, doubtless because they, too, 
had been having intercourse with the mother be- 
fore and during pregnancy. The relationship 
between the parents and the child is thus general- 
ized to coparents as well. Children and other 
members of the family, however, are not decorated, 
although a feather or two may be added to their 
hah while the parents are being adorned. 

The parents undergo no further rites on the 
second day after birth, but there still remain the 
ceremonies that terminate the couvade. These 
usually take place on the third day after birth, 
although they are sometimes postponed until the 
fourth, but they do not depend on any particular 
circumstances, such as the dropping off of the 
navel cord. In these terminal rites uruku is again 



smeared on the members of the family undergoing 
the couvade. Necklaces made from the base of 
the quill feathers of a species of hawk are placed 
around the necks of the father and mother. The 
mother by this time is also wearing a necklace 
containing the hair plucked from the infant's 
head. A few miniature baskets with a very 
open weave are hastily woven by the mother 
from a leaf of motacu palm and rilled with the 
ashes of a dying fire. She then takes up the baby 
and places it for the first time in the new sling, 
which is dyed bright red with uruku. The father 
picks up his bow and a couple of arrows, and the 
family starts off on a trail into the forest. As a 
rule, but not always, the father marches ahead, 
carrying his bow and arrows to protect the infant, 
from danger. The mother follows behind, with 
the baby in the sling, carrying in one hand a 
basket of ashes, which she slowly scatters along 
the trail to purify it, and in the other a calabash 
of water. If there are any other children in the 
family, or cowives or ydnde, they may also join the 
party and scatter ashes along the trail. Usually 
not a word is said as the party proceeds to its 
destination. After walking for about 5 minutes 
the entire group halts. The mother sits down, 
and her husband brings her a palm leaf from which 
she begins to construct a carrying basket. The 
father in the meantime goes in quest of firewood. 
After firewood has been collected and placed in 
the basket, the party starts home without cere- 
mony. When they arrive about 100 yards from 
the hut, the baskets which contained the ashes are 
hung on to bushes a few feet from the trail. 
Upon entering the hut the parents kindle a new 
fire with the wood carried back from the forest. 
The infant is then given a bath from the calabash 
of water which the mother took into and brought 
back from the forest. The period of couvade is 
then considered to be officially over, and the 
normal activities of life can be resumed. 


The Siriono regard multiple births as unnatural. 
Twins are believed to be caused by the father or 
the mother having eaten a double ear of corn. In 
fact, any plant which grows double, such as maize, 
manioc, or camote, is carefully avoided by adults 
lest multiple births result. Such plants are always 
fed to children. Although twins occur occa- 

sionally, informants knew of no cases in which 
more than two children were born at one time. 

When twins are born, both are allowed to live. 
One of them frequently dies, however, because the 
mother is unable properly to attend both. Al- 
though cowives or sisters having no young children 
usually suckle one of a pair of twins for a short 
time after birth, there is, except in the case of 
orphans, a considerable reluctance to take care of 
anyone else's child for any prolonged period. 


The following are observations on the birth of a 
pair of twins at Tibaera on the night of January 17, 
1942. Up until the time of the birth, of course, no 
one had expected a pair of twins — the parturient 
mother, Eakwantui (Tapir), least of all. Before 
the birth she had assured me time and again that 
she would have but one child. 

In the case of this pair of twins, the first signs 
of birth appeared almost a month and a half before 
the children were actually born. About 6 a. m. 
on December 1, 1941, the woman began to feel 
labor pains and informed her husband. He, fol- 
lowing the Siriono custom, picked up his bow and 
arrows and went out to hunt. 6 The usual prepa- 
rations were made for the birth, such as loosening 
the earth underneath the hammock and hanging 
up the childbirth rope. After an hour or so, how- 
ever, labor pains subsided, and the woman went 
about her usual duties in the house. At noon she 
smeared some uruku on her face to facUitate the 
birth, but- by the time her husband had returned 
from the hunt nothing further had happened. He 
had secured four toucans and two squirrels. These 
were eaten by him and the families of his in-laws, 
but his wife did not eat any of these animals as 
they were taboo to her. 

After the first labor pains, life proceeded nor- 
mally, the prospective father and mother, however, 
remaining close to the house. On December 4, at 
about 2 p. m., Eakwantui again began to feel labor 
pains. Again her husband picked up his bow and 
arrows, and preparations were made for the birth. 
On this day labor pains were considerably stronger 
than before. Eakwantui lay in her hammock in 
great pain, muttering "sedidi erdsi" ("I am child 
sick"). As her cries got louder, most of the 
women of the band gathered and sat down in 

8 The reason for this is to secure a name for the child. See Naming, 
p. 74. 



neighboring hammocks. Children were also pres- 
ent, boys and girls as well as babes in arms. No 
men were intentionally present, although some lay 
nearby in their hammocks, paying no attention to 
the proceedings. After about 10 minutes of wait- 
ing for the birth to take place, someone at the 
other end of the house announced the arrival of a 
party with manioc brought in from an old garden 
some distance away. The suffering woman was 
immediately abandoned; everyone made a rush to 
see whether he could get some manioc. In a short 
while the labor pains ceased, and at about 6 p. m. 
Eakwantui's husband returned from the hunt with 
a squirrel, which was eaten by his sister. 

Nothing further happened, except that the pro- 
spective parents had occasional intercourse to 
hasten the delivery of the child, until December 17, 
when Eakwantui again began to feel labor pains 
about 7:30 in the morning. Her husband stretched 
the childbirth rope over the hammock before 
going out to hunt. Tatiii (Armadillo), the 
husband's sister, swept the floor under the 
hammock and loosened the earth with a digging 
stick. An old woman, not an immediate relative, 
performed a solo dance at the head of Eakwantui's 
hammock to facilitate the birth. Again present 
were most of the women and children of the band. 
After about an hour the birth pangs subsided for 
the third time. At nightfall Eakwantui's hus- 
band returned with a small tortoise, which 
was eaten by his brother-in-law. 

Between December 17 and January 17 there 
was no further progress toward labor, but there 
was considerable talk on the part of the other 
women, who expected that Eakwantui would die. 
On the whole, however, they paid little attention 
to her, although her sister-in-law, Eicazi (Mother- 
of-Clubfoot) said to me, "kose mose mbia mdno 
akenddsi" ("People have died hi childbirth 
before"). During this period both Eakwantui and 
her husband stayed close to camp. He did not 
go hunting for more than a day at a time, and 
the only times she left camp were to have inter- 
course to stimulate the birth of the infant. 

Finally, on January 17, at about 3 o'clock in 
the afternoon, Eakwantui again began to have 
labor pains. Because of the previous false 
alarms almost no attention was paid to her at 
first. Her husband went hunting as usual, al- 
though he explained that it was too late in the 
afternoon to get game. About 5 p. m. the labor 

pains began to grow stronger, and Eakwantui's 
sister-in-law began to rub her stomach a little. 
She herself was pulling and rubbing her breasts 
during the pains. This time her husband's sister's 
husband tied a piece of pole over the hammock 
with lianas, and she grasped on to this for support 
while trying to give birth. Receiving very little 
attention, she continued in pain until about 5:30 
p. m., when her husband returned from the hunt 
with a small turtle. This was immediately pre- 
pared and eaten by one of his sisters-in-law. 
A girl child was finally born about 7 p.m., dropping 
through the strings of the hammock, and about 3 
minutes afterward, a boy. As soon as the girl 
was born, the father got out of his hammock and 
assisted Eakwantui by supporting her under the 
arms. When the boy was born, there was terrific 
confusion among the women, who crowded so 
close to the mother that she could hardly breathe, 
but none made an effort to help her. After the 
second birth the mother got out of the hammock 
to expel the afterbirth. Both children were lying 
in the dirt underneath the hammock, showing 
few signs of life. The mother appointed Araia, a 
cowife, to take care of one of the children. When 
Araia picked up the boy, all the women cried, 
"Desi erdNkwi" ("penis for the mother," i. e., 
the boy for the mother), so she put the boy down 
and took up the girl. The mother, who had 
expelled the placentas in the meantime, called for 
a basket. From it she took a small blade of 
bamboo and handed it to her husband. He first 
severed the cord of the girl about 2 inches from 
the placenta and then cut off a piece about 4 
inches long, which Araia, the second wife, put on 
her leg before tying it under her hammock. The 
cord of the boy was then cut in the same manner. 
It was now about 8 p. m., and almost everyone 
who had been observing the birth, retired to his 
hammock to sleep. 

After the rest had left, the mother and Araia 
remained seated on the ground with the two 
children. The mother began to scrape up the 
bloody earth from underneath the hammock 
with her hands, pushing it into a small hole 
which her sister-in-law, Tatiii (Armadillo), had 
made for that purpose near the head of the 
hammock. When all of the blood-stained earth 
had been placed in the hole, the mother carefully 
put the two placentas on top. Then both of the 
women began to shape the children, first straight- 



ening their legs, then pushing their hips inward, 
and finally pressing their heads slightly from front 
to back — "to make them beautiful," as Araia 
told me. Both infants were then given a hasty 
bath from a calabash of water, after which the 
two women, sitting on the ground, gave the babies 
suck. When I retired, at about 2 a. m., both 
women were still attending the infants and sitting 
in the same position they had assumed after the 

On the following morning, January 18, I 
returned to the hut about 6 a. m. The mother was 
then holding both of the infants, but when I came 
into the hut, she passed the female to Araia. 
The mother had not yet taken a bath; the blood 
from the birth was smeared all over her legs. 
Her husband was lying in the hammock, eating 
maize. The women spent some more time in 
shaping the limbs and pressing the hips and heads 
of the infants and then gave them a bath. Eak- 
wantiii and Araia next began to eat roasted maize 
prepared for them by the 8-year-old daughter 
of the former. After eating the maize, the two 
women were brought some fruits of the aguai 
and motacu. They continued to roast and eat 
until about 2 p. m., when they entered their 
hammocks for the first time since the birth the 
night before. At 8 o'clock that evening both 
women were still fast asleep in their hammocks 
with the infants upon their breasts. The father 
had lain in his hammock all day. 

About 8 a. m. on January 19 the father took a 
bath in the river. When he returned, Eakwantiii 
placed two baby slings — newly made and covered 
with uruku — around his neck, as well as two neck- 
laces of coati teeth. He was then scarified on the 
legs by Isf, his father's brother. Meanwhile, the 
two infants were given their first haircut by the 
mother. During this operation they howled con- 
tinually. After being scarified, the father's legs 
were washed and smeared with uruku. He then 
returned to his hammock and began to eat maize. 
I asked him what he could eat and what he could 
not eat at this time, and he gave me the following 

list of foods, which he said applied to the women 
as well: 

Foods not taboo 

Taboo foods 






Harpy eagle. 


Howler monkey 



Spicier monkey. 


Capuchin monkey. 













All vegetable foods. 

All fruits except papaya. 

When the mother finished giving the infants a 
haircut, the depilated hair was wrapped into two 
separate cotton balls and hung around the necks 
of the two women. The mother now gave the 
boy infant to her husband to hold while she went 
out to defecate. When she returned, he removed 
the baby slings and the coati necklaces and put 
them around her neck. He was then given a hair- 
cut by his sister, the hair clippings being thrown 
in the hole with the afterbirth. Feather orna- 
ments were then put in his hair, in the traditional 
fashion by his sister. After he had been dec- 
orated, he scarified the legs of the mother and of 
Araia, who was taking care of the female infant. 
Both of the women had previously bathed. They 
were then given a haircut, and feather ornaments 
were glued into their hair. Cotton string covered 
with uruku was also wound around their arms, 
legs, and necks. By the time these decorations 
were complete, the day had almost ended, and 
after an evening meal of maize all retired to their 

Early the next morning, January 20, the mem- 
bers of the family smeared uruku on their faces, 
arms, and legs. The father took off his old wrist 
guard and put on a new one. Both of the women 
and the father hung necklaces made of the base of 



the quill feathers of the hawk around their necks. 
The women were also wearing necklaces containing 
the depilated hair of the infants. Several small, 
loosely woven baskets were made by the mother, 
and these were filled with ashes. 

AtSa.m. the party left for the bush on a trail lead- 
ing out from the east side of the house. The father 
of the twins and his two wives were accompanied 
by one of his nephews, who led the party with a 
basket of ashes which he strewed along the trail. 
The two women followed behind and also scattered 
ashes. The mother likewise carried a calabash of 
water, but she did not sprinkle this along the way. 
The father brought up the rear of the party, carry- 
ing nothing but his bow and two arrows. Not a 
word was said as the party proceeded along the 

After walking about 10 minutes, when there 
were no more ashes left in the baskets, the party 
made a halt. The mother sat down and placed 
the two children in her lap. The father left, 
shortly returning with a green leaf of the motacu 
palm from which the mother then began to weave 
a carrying basket. The father and his nephew 
went off in quest of firewood, soon returning. 
The firewood was put in the basket, which was 
placed on the father's back, and the party set out 
for the house. Just before arriving, however, a 
small stick was stuck into the ground, and the 
empty baskets, which had contained the ashes, 
were hung on it. The party then returned to the 
hut. Here a new fire was kindled, and the mother 
gave the twins a bath from the calabash of water 
which she had been carrying. The father shortly 
left the house again and brought back a ripe leaf 
of the motacu palm, from which the mother wove 
a basket. When this was completed, she placed 
in it all the remains from the birth which had been 
lying in the hole in the ground at the head of the 
hammock, leaving the basket standing under the 
hammock. She then went about her regular 
household duties, and the father went out on 
the hunt. The. period of couvade was officially 

The feather ornaments which are glued into the 
hair after the birth of a child are worn for about a 
month afterward. In the case of the above- 
mentioned twins, the feathers were not cut out of 
the parents' hair until February 24. The after- 
birth, moreover, was left standing in the basket 
underneath the hammock for 16 days before it was 

taken by the mother deep into the bush and thrown 


Only in one birth which I observed was there 
any question of the paternity involved or a reluc- 
tance on the part of a woman's husband to accept 
her child as his. Of course, considering the sexual 
freedom allowed by the Siriono, the true paternity 
of a child would be difficult to determine, but, as 
far as the group is concerned, it is only the social 
role of the father that is important. In the case 
referred to, one of the wives of E6ko (Tall-one) 
came into labor early one morning. E6ko left for 
the hunt before the infant was born but knew that 
his wife was in labor. She gave birth to a girl 
about 8 a. m. I was present at the birth and spent 
the day observing postnatal events, and, like the 
mother, waiting for E6ko to return and to cut the 
cord. We waited patiently until about 5 p. m., 
but E6ko had not yet returned. As a somewhat 
partial observer at this stage, I became concerned 
that the infant might die from an infection of the 
cord and placenta, which had been exposed to the 
flies the entire day, but upon making the sugges- 
tion that the cord should be cut, I was told by the 
mother and other informants that it was necessary 
to await the arrival of E6ko. Finally he returned, 
in company with other hunters, just as the sun 
was going down. He had shot a few ke N (capuchin 
monkeys) which he threw down by the hammock 
of his first wife, paying no attention, however, to 
the mother and the newborn infant. In fact, he 
cast not so much as a glance in their direction. 

Meanwhile, the mother took out a piece of 
bamboo and sat patiently on the ground waiting 
for E6ko to cut the cord. Instead of so doing, 
he lay down in his hammock and ordered his first 
wife to extract the thorns from his hands and feet. 
This operation took approximately half an hour, 
by which time it was fairly obvious to all present 
that E6ko had no intention of cutting the cord. 
Women began to gather. Seaci, who was Eoko's 
niece, came up to me and said softly: "You speak 
to E6ko ; tell him to cut the cord." I replied : "No, 
you speak to him." She was afraid to do so. 
Then one of E6ko's relatives remarked that E6ko 
claimed the child was not his, that he had "di- 
vorced" this woman some time before. Following 
this declaration, one of the mother's female rela- 
tives came forward and publicly demanded that 



Eoko cut the cord. He paid no attention whatso- 
ever to her but continued to lie in his hammock 
and smoke his pipe. The mother of the infant 
took no part in the proceedings but continued to 
sit quietly on the ground with the child. Darkness 
set in. The mother's female relatives continued 
to put pressure on E6ko to cut the cord. Finally, 
after about an hour, he got up from his hammock, 
called for a calabash of water, and took a hasty 
bath. He then stooped down, took the bamboo 
knife from the mother, and severed the cord, 
thereby recognizing the child as his. Before doing 
so, however, he emphatically stated that the child 
was not his and that he was only cutting the cord 
to prevent the death of the child. 

Edko's reluctance to accept the infant as his 
was clearly reflected in his behavior during the 
period of couvade. He acted as if he did not care 
whether the infant lived or died. He paid no 
attention whatsoever to the mother, and although 
he was decorated with feathers like every father 
of a newborn child, he underwent few of the other 
observances designed to protect and insure the 
life and health of the infant. He was not scarified 
on the legs, for instance, nor did he observe the 
rules of staying close to the house. He paid no 
attention to the food taboos and took no pari in 
the rites terminating the couvade. He repeatedly 
told me that he had "divorced"' this woman anil 
that he would have nothing more to do with her. 
This was borne out by subsequent events. 


The Indians' kinship with the animal world is 
clearly reflected in the system of naming. At 
birth almost everyone receives an animal name. 
The most common method of securing such a 
name is for the father to go in quest of an animal 
as soon as the prospective mother begins to feel 
the pangs of childbirth. He usually goes in search 
of a particular animal, a valiant one like a tapir, 
a jaguar, or a peccary, but if such an animal is 
not to be found, the child is named for the first 
animal that the father kills. It so happens that 
in the cases of childbirth which I witnessed the 
father never came home empty-handed from such 
a hunt. 

A specific case will best explain the method of 
naming. A certain woman at Tibaera called 
Eantazi (Mother-of-Strong-one) felt birth pangs 
in the early morning of August 28, 1941. Her 

husband, Eantandu (Father-of-Strong-one), upon 
being informed that the infant was soon expected, 
picked up his bow and arrows and left immediately 
for the hunt. Before leaving, however, he told 
me that he was going to look for a ydkwa (jaguar) 
after which to name the baby. The infant was 
born about 10 a. m. while the father was still out 
on the hunt. He returned about 5 p. m., carrying 
a young jaguar on his back. After he had cut 
the cord, I asked him what the name of the child 
would be, and he replied, "Ydkwa," which was 
the first animal that he had hunted that day. 

The above-mentioned method of naming is 
practiced when the birth takes place during the 
day. If a child is born at night, when it is im- 
possible for the father to go hunting, other methods 
are followed. In such cases, the infant may be 
named after some unusual characteristic that it 
possesses, such as a clubfoot, or after an animal 
some characteristic of which it shows a remarkable 
resemblance to. In the case of the twins whose 
birth was described above and which took place at 
night, the female was called Eata (Many) because 
more than one child was born; the boy, Eica 
(Twisted) because one of his feet was markedly 
turned inward. In another instance which 
I observed, an infant was born about 3 o'clock in 
the morning. Upon arriving belatedly on the 
scene, I asked the father what the name of the 
child would be, and he replied, "Yikina" (Owl 
monkey). When I questioned him as to why this 
name was given to the infant, he replied that while 
the birth was taking place a troop of owl monkeys 
passed by the house and were heard chattering. 

Although there are no formal ceremonies of 
naming, an infant is usually given a name by one 
of these methods. At Casarabe, however, where 
the Indians were living under conditions of forced 
labor and acculturation, the custom of seeking 
a name for the infant before it was actually born 
was supplanted by one in which it was named 
after the period of couvade was over. 

Besides the name that one receives at birth and 
the various names that one acquires by virtue of 
having borne children, i. e., through teknonymy, 
the Siriono are extremely fond of bestowing nick- 
names on people. These are applied to individ- 
uals because of some striking physical characteris- 
tic that they possess or because of some outstand- 
ing event that happened to them. A man who 



falls from a tree, for example, may be known 
henceforth as "Falling-from-a-tree." 

Nicknames change frequently. Some of the 
common ones coined at Tibaera were the follow- 
ing: Eruba-erasi (Sick-face), IkaNge (Bones), 
Kon6mbi-acikwa (Tortoise-rump) , Eresaia (Blind) , 
Mbe-erasi (Snake-sick), Eidiia-ekwasu (Big- 
navel), Aiiti (Close-at-kand), Etomi (Lazy), 
EreN-ekida (Fat- vulva), and Mbiku (literally 
"opossum," but applied to a man who steals other 
men's women). While I was at Tibaera, the cus- 
tum of nicknaming also extended to me. One of 
my nicknames which persisted for some time was 
Kiikwandusu (Big-deer), because I was known 
to be skillful at shooting deer on the pampa. I 
was also variously called Eresa-erasi (Sick-eyes), 
Eaboko (Long-hair), and Embuta (Beard). By 
those Siriono who have had contact with the out- 
side a stranger is invariably called taita, the 
Quechua term for father, old man, or patron. 

No sex distinctions are made in the naming of 
children, and such things as status differences in 
names, individual names, and taboo names do 
not exist. Within the band various people may 
have the same name. At Tibaera, for instance, 
there were several people by the name of Seaci 
(Coati), Embuta (Beard), and EicA (Clubfoot). 


When the period of couvade is over, the infant, 
who is then regarded as a definite member of the 
nuclear and extended family, stays almost con- 
stantly with his mother until he is about a year 
old. Most of the duties pertaining to his care fall 
to her. Whenever the mother is in the house, the 
infant lies across her lap ; whenever she leaves the 
house, he is placed in the baby sling and carried 
astride her hip. He is freely offered the breast 
whenever he is awake, and if he cries, his mother 
tries her best to pacify him by this method. She 
grooms him frequently, watching for the appear- 
ance of wood ticks, lice, and skin worms; she care- 
fully protects him from the bites of mosquitoes and 
other harassing insects which cause him no end of 
discomfort and distress. 

During this early period, infants are carefully 
watched that they do not play with their feces. 
The Siriono appear to have made the connection 
between contact with feces and such ailments as 
hookworm and dysentery. Consequently, when- 
ever the infant defecates, the excreta are immedi- 

ately cleaned up by the mother (she generally 
uses a hard shell of motacu fruit for this purpose), 
wrapped in a leaf, and stored in a special deposi- 
tory basket. When this basket becomes full, the 
mother carries it some distance into the forest and 
empties the contents where the child can have no 
contact with them. 

In spite of the care with which mothers watch 
theh young babies, I frequently observed infants 
playing with their feces. On one occasion Aciba- 
eoko and his family were busily engaged consum- 
ing a batch of manioc. His first wife's baby, a 
boy about 6 months of age, was lying on the ground 
near the hammock. The baby defecated while 
the mother was eating, and she did not see him. 
After lying in the excreta for several minutes, he 
began to smear them over himself and shortly 
thereafter he put some of them into his mouth. 
At this moment the mother observed what he was 
doing. She grabbed the infant by the arm, put 
her finger into his mouth, and cleaned out the 
excreta, saying at the same time, "abacikwaia 
ikwa nde" ("You are an evil spirit"). Although 
the baby was badly soiled, he was not bathed, but 
was wiped with a large leaf. The mother con- 
tinued to eat without washing her hands. 

An infant receives no punishment if he urinates 
or defecates on his parents. Almost no effort is 
made by the mother to train an infant in the habits 
of cleanliness until he can walk, and then they are 
instilled very gradually. Children who are able to 
walk, however, soon learn by imitation, and with 
the assistance of their parents, not to defecate near 
the hammock. When they are old enough to 
indicate their needs, the mother gradually leads 
them farther and farther away from the hammock 
to urinate and defecate, so that by the time they 
have reached the age of 3 they have learned not to 
pollute the house. Until the age of 4 or 5, 
however, children are still wiped by the mother, 
who also cleans up the excreta and throws them 
away. Not until a child has reached the age of 6 
does he take care of his defecation needs alone. 

Little training is given a child in the matter of 
urination. Contact with urine is not regarded as 
harmful, and I frequently observed mothers who 
did not even move when babies on their laps 
urinated. Since no clothes are worn by either the 
mother or the child, the urine soon dries or can 
readily be washed off. Grown children frequently 
urinate in the house without censure, and even 



adults seldom go more than 10 feet from the house 
to urinate. 

Infants are usually bathed at least once a day. 
If the band is on the march, infants often receive 
shower baths from the frequent rains that fall. If 
the band is settled, the mother usually repairs to 
the water hole or stream in the late afternoon to 
bathe both herself and the baby. If not, she 
usually bathes the baby in the house from a 
calabash of water. In washing the infant's hands, 
which she may do more frequently, the mother 
fills her mouth with water and squirts it on the 
baby's hands, rubbing them briskly at the same 

Until a baby is about 6 months of age, he gets no 
other nourishment than mother's milk. Soon 
after, however, he may be given a bone to suck on, 
and his mother begins to supplement his diet with a 
certain amount of premasticated food. As the 
infant grows older, he is given more and more 
premasticated food, so that by the time he is 1 year 
of age, about 25 percent of his diet consists of foods 
other than mother's milk. During this time, 
however, he is never denied the breast if he wants 
it. In fact, children are rarely, if ever, fully 
weaned until they are at least 3 years of age, and 
occasionally one sees a child of 4 or 5 sucking from 
his mother's breast. 

Weaning, like toilet training, is a very gradual 
process. The rapidity with which it occurs 
depends largely on how soon another child is 
expected in the family. If the mother soon 
becomes pregnant, the infant is discouraged from 
sucking; if no child is expected, the process may be 
lengthened considerably. In weaning, the mother 
usually applies beeswax to her breasts, so that the 
child receives no reward for his sucking. This 
method is also employed when the mother is ill 
and does not want her child to suck. Foul-tasting 
substances, such as excrement, are never smeared 
on the breasts to discourage a child from nursing. 

Because of the limited time which I spent with 
the Siriono, I am unable to supply accurate in- 
formation concerning the age at which such habit 
patterns as creeping, standing, walking, and talk- 
ing first appear in children. In all of these re- 
spects, however, Siriono infants seem to fall within 
the normal human range. Parents do little to 
hasten the maturation process. As habits begin 
to form, of course, an infant is encouraged to 
develop them for himself, but if it represents any 

strain for him to creep, to stand, or to walk, little 
attempt is made to force him. If, for instance, 
an infant is lying on the floor near his mother's 
hammock and wishes to come to her, he is encour- 
aged to do so by creeping or, if old enough, by 
walking, but if he starts to cry, which is recognized 
as a sign that it is too difficult for him, the mother 
gets up from her hammock and picks him up. 

One of the most painful and frustrating experi- 
ences that every infant must regularly undergo is 
that of having his eyebrows and the hair from his 
forehead depilated. A newborn baby receives 
his first haircut the day after birth and is subjected 
to periodic depilations about every 2 weeks there- 
after. These are not endured without avoidance 
and pain. Mothers almost always have to hold 
infants very forcibly while giving them a haircut, 
and it is only after a child has reached the age of 
about 3 years that he resigns himself to this 
operation without whimpering. Whenever I heard 
infants howling terrifically, I could be sure they 
were receiving their semimonthly grooming. 

The Siriono are proud parents. They spend a 
great deal of time in fondling and playing with 
their children and are delighted to display them 
to anyone foreign to their camp. I found that 
one of the best ways to gain the confidence of the 
Indians was by taking an interest in their children: 
in bringing them presents, in playing with them, 
and in curing them of such ailments as hookworm. 
Their interest in children was also clearly reflected 
in their conversations with me, for I was bombarded 
with questions as to how many children I had, 
where they were living, etc. In order to avoid 
some explanation of my bachelorhood, which they 
would not have understood or which would have 
seemed ridiculous to them, I always told them that 
I had a wife and several children (I even supplied 
the names) waiting for me at home, and that as 
soon as I had obtained the information which my 
"father" had sent me to gather, I was going to 
return to my family. 

Males are definitely preferred. A pregnant 
woman always expresses a desire to give birth 
to a boy. The preference for males, however, is 
not much reflected in the amount of love or care 
given an infant. Parents spend as much time 
fondling a girl as a boy. Even clubfooted children 
and other deformed infants are shown no lack of 
partiality in this respect. 




The transition from infancy to childhood in 
Siriono society is a very gradual one. Not only 
are there no sharp breaks in the process of growing 
up, but from the time one is a child until one 
assumes the role of an adult, life is relatively care- 
free and undisciplined. In fact, this pattern of 
freedom so carries on throughout adult life that 
it can be truly said of the Siriono that they are a 
highly undisciplined people. 

In contrast to many primitive societies, where 
a maternal or paternal relative often assumes the 
responsibility of formally educating the child, 
the system of education among the Siriono may 
best be characterized as informal, random, and 
haphazard. If there is a general theory of educa- 
tion, it can hardly be more than the necessary 
one of gradually teaching the child to be as inde- 
pendent as possible of his family, so that by the 
tune he has reached the age of maturity he will 
be able to shift for himself. Since the amount of 
knowledge that a child has to absorb to survive 
in this culturally backward society is small in 
comparison with what he would have to learn in 
many other societies, the period of childhood offers 
more than ample time to instill the patterns of 
adult behavior without a great deal of formal 

Until a child can walk or talk, at about the age 
of 3, he is taught almost everything he knows by 
his parents and his older siblings, and during the 
early phases of the education of the child, of 
course, it is the mother who plays the predominant 
role. Not only does she feed and care for the 
child, but she is largely responsible, since the 
father is way a great deal on the hunt, for teaching 
him to walk, to talk, and to observe the rules of 
cleanliness. Young children are, therefore, usually 
"mothers' boys" or "mothers' girls." 

In instilling the habits of prescribed behavior 
in a child, the principles of reward and punishment 
are clearly recognized. A mother who is teaching 
her child to walk, for instance, frequently rewards 
him, after he has reached his destination, with a 
bit of wild bee honey or some other tidbit. But 
if he is violating some taboo, such as eating dirt 
or a forbidden animal, not only are the rewards 
withdrawn, but the child may be roughly picked 
up and set aside to cry by himself for a while. 
A disobedient child may also be warned that if 

he repeats a forbidden act he will be bitten by a 
snake or carried off by an evil spirit. An unruly 
child is never beaten, however. At worst, his 
mother gives him a rough pull or throws some 
small object at him. 

During all of my residence among the Siriono, I 
observed only one extreme outburst of aggression 
on the part of a mother against her child. This 
took place one evening about dusk. Erakui, a 
nickname meaning "Pointed-one," had just begun 
to eat a chunk of broiled peccary meat which she 
had received from one of her relatives. Her 
young son, Erami ("Old-buck" — so-called be- 
cause he looked like an old man), although he had 
just eaten, began to complain that he had not had 
enough to eat. Erakui paid little attention to 
him at first, but as he continued to complain, she 
made a few sharp remarks and finally said to him: 
"You have already had enough to eat." He 
replied: "You lie," and made a gesture of grabbing 
for the meat that she was eating. Suddenly she 
lost her temper, picked up a spindle lying nearby, 
and gave the boy a sharp rap on the shoulders. 
He began to howl and made a dash for the other 
end of the house to avoid more blows. She 
followed him a short distance, threw the spindle at 
him, and then returned to her hammock, where 
she, too, began to cry. (Mothers almost always 
cry after they have expressed aggression against 
their children.) The boy continued to wail at the 
other end of the house for about 20 minutes after 
which, since it was getting very dark, be sneaked 
back and climbed in a hammock with his father. 
In the morning all had been forgotten. 

Children are generally allowed great license in 
expressing aggression against their parents, who 
are both patient and long-suffering with them. 
A young child in a temper tantrum may ordinarily 
beat his father and his mother as hard as he can, 
and they will just laugh. When children are 
neglected or teased by their parents, they often 
pick up a spindle or stick and strike them with 
considerable force without being punished. 1 
have even heard fathers encouraging their young 
sons to strike their mothers. Eantandu told me 
that such expressions of anger in a child were a 
sign that he would grow up to be a valiant adult. 

Food habits are among the first patterns of be- 
havior that every young child must learn. After 
weaning, taboo foods are simply withheld from a 
child, but as he grows older and more omnivorous, 



he is threatened with disease and abandonment 
if he partakes of forbidden foods to which he may 
be exposed while his parents are not around. The 
list of foods taboo to him, however, is not long. 
Among the animals he must never eat is the harpy 
eagle. This taboo is easy to obey, since tbis bird 
is rarely bagged; only two were shot during my 
residence at Tibaera. The harpy eagle is regarded 
as the king of the birds by the Siriono, and the 
eating of its flesh is believed to cause illness (it is 
never stated what kind) to anyone but an old 
person. Likewise taboo until one is aged are the 
anteater, lest one sire or give birth to clubfooted 
children, and the bowler monkey, because it is an 
"old" animal with a beard and therefore dangerous 
to eat when one is young. Children are also 
forbidden the meat of the owl monkey, lest they 
spend sleepless nights and be restless, and the 
coati, lest they break out with sores on their 
bodies. Embryos and the young offspring of 
animals also cannot be eaten by children, lest they 
have miscarriages in adulthood. 

There are few instances when the above-men- 
tioned food taboos cause a child to suffer from 
lack of meat. Sometimes, however, hunters return 
with nothing but a howler monkey or an anteater, 
and the child is denied a share. On such occasions 
parents attempt by exchange to secure some edible 
meat for the child, but in some instances he may 
be forced to go meat hungry for a day or two. As 
a last resort, parents sometimes neglect the food 
taboos in order to satisfy a hungry and whimpering 
child. I have observed a father offer his crying 
son anteater meat, for instance, even though it 
was strictly taboo for the child to eat it. Gener- 
ally speaking, however, taboo foods are withheld 
from children, who themselves learn what foods 
not to eat by the time they have reached the age 
of 6. 

When a child is able to walk and talk, his rela- 
tions outside of the family begin to broaden. By 
this time, of course, his education is w r ell underway. 
Having traveled extensively through jungle and 
swamp he has already become acquainted with 
the plants and animals. He knows which ones 
are good to eat and which ones must be avoided. 
He has felt the prick of spines. He has experi- 
enced the sting of mosquitoes, of scorpions, and of 
ants. He has seen where animals live and how 
they are shot. He has watched them being 
cleaned, gutted, quartered, cooked, and eaten. 

He has gone hungry, and he has eaten to excess. 
He has been sick with malaria, hookworm, and 
dysentery. He has watched children be born 
and die. He has seen the aged and sick abandon- 
ed. He has observed his parents get drunk, 
dance, and fight. He has heard of evil spirits, 
and has been admonished not to venture out of 
the house at night lest he be carried off by one. 
In short, although only 3 or 4 years of age, he 
has already experienced a major part of his 
natural environment and participated deeply 
into his culture. 

At about the age of 3, although still largely 
dependent upon his parents, the child begins to 
stray from the family fire — to play with other 
children, and to learn those habits which gradu- 
ally increase his self-reliance and lessen his de- 
pendency on the family. His first contacts with 
people of his own age are generally those with his 
half brothers, half sisters, and his cousins, who 
are not only closely related to him genealogically 
but spatially as well, since the extended family 
tends to cluster together in the house. A child's 
first play group, in fact, seldom contains members 
outside of his extended family. As he grows 
older, children of the same sex and age from other 
extended families join the play group, so that at 
puberty there is usually not more than one play 
group for each sex in the entire band. Since the 
local group is small, play groups seldom contain 
over five or six members. 

Since the aim to which every Siriono male aspires 
is to be an excellent hunter, young boys get an 
early education, through play, in the art of the 
chase. Before a boy is 3 months of age his father 
has made him a miniature bow and arrows which, 
although he will not be able to use them for several 
years, are symbolic of his adult role as a hunter. 
By the time a boy is 3 years of age he is already 
pulling on some kind of a bow, and with his com- 
panions he spends many pleasant hours shooting 
his weapons at any nonhuman target that strikes 
his fancy. As he grows older and more skillful 
with his bow, he begins to select living targets, 
such as butterflies and insects, and when his 
marksmanship is perfected he is encouraged to 
stalk woodpeckers and other buds that light on 
branches near the house. Consequently, by the 
time a boy is 8 he has usually bagged some game 
animal, although only a small bird. 

Like young boys, girls, too, through play, get 



an early exposure to some of the household tasks 
which they have to perform when they are adults. 
As the bow symbolizes the hunting role of the boy, 
so the spindle symbolizes the spinning role of the 
girl. Before a girl is 3 years of age her father lias 
made her a miniature spindle with which she 
practices the art of spinning as she matures. 

Strikingly enough, miniature bows and arrows 
for boys and spindles for girls are the only toys 
which the Siriono make for their children. There 
is a conspicuous lack of dolls, animal figures, 
puzzles, cradles, stilts, balls, string figures, etc., 
so commonly found in other primitive societies. 
Occasionally a baby tortoise or the young of some 
animal is brought in from the forest for a child to 
play with, but such pets are usually treated so 
roughly that they die within a few days' time- 
Moreover, such common amusements for children 
as games of tag, of hide-and-seek, and racing are 
unknown in Siriono society. Organized games 
and contests for children (except wrestling for 
boys) seem to be entirely lacking. 

Besides playing with their bows and arrows, 
boys amuse themselves in other ways: climbing 
trees, playing in the water, fishing, learning to 
swim, chasing one another around camp, and 
wrestling. They also spend a great deal of time 
lying in their hammocks, a custom they seem 
readily to learn from their parents. 

Girls play especially at house: making baskets 
and pots, spinning cotton thread, and twining 
bark-fiber string. They also frequently assist 
their mothers in performing such simple house- 
hold tasks as shelling maize, roasting wild fruits, 
and carrying water. Young girls also spend a 
great deal of time grooming each other, depilating 
the han from their foreheads and picking out and 
eating the lice from their heads. In general, by 
the time they have reached the age of S, girls 
have learned to weave baskets, to twine bark- 
fiber string, to spin cotton thread, and to perform 
most of the tasks which the society assigns to the 
adult female. 

Within play groups aggression is freely ex- 
pressed. When boys are playing with their bows 
and arrows (boys' arrows always have blunt ends, 
and their bows shoot with little force), accidents 
sometimes occur, and occasionally one child 
shoots another intentionally, even though boys 
are admonished not to point their weapons at 
any human target. When such accidents or 

shootings occur (children are seldom wounded as 
a result of them), a fight usually breaks out, and 
the child who has been hit often strikes back at 
the boy who shot him. Adults generally take no 
part in these fights (they usually laugh at them), 
but the loser almost always runs crying to his 
parents for protection. 

Considerable teasing and torturing — such things 
as pinching of the genitals, poking fingers in the 
eyes, and scratching — of young children by 
older children take place. A young child most 
often protects himself from such attacks with a 
brand of fire or a digging stick, and if he catches 
off guard the older child who molested him, he 
may burn him rather severely or give him a sharp 
rap on the head. Under such circumstances, 
older children are not allowed to express counter 

Sibling rivalry does not seem to be intense. 
If a quarrel breaks out between siblings, parents 
almost always take the part of the younger child. 
There seems, in fact, to be a clear recognition by 
the Siriono that the younger a child the less 
responsible he is for his acts. As between sisters 
and brothers, there seems to be a slight preference 
in the treatment of boys, though this is scarcely 
noticeable until puberty. Generally speaking, 
however, boys receive more food and less disci- 
pline than girls. 

At about the age of 8, a boy begins to accompany 
his father on the hunt. This is really the beginning 
of his serious education as a hunter. Until this 
time most of his hunting has been confined to the 
immediate environs of the hut. When a boy first 
starts to accompany his father, he makes only 
about one excursion per week, but as he gradually 
becomes hardened to the jungle, his trips away 
from camp become more frequent and of longer 
duration. On these expeditions the boy grad- 
ually learns when, where, and how to track and 
stalk game. His father allows him to take easy 
shots, so as to reinforce his interest in hunting. 
The boy is given light loads of game to carry in 
from the jungle, and if he kills an animal of any 
importance, such as a peccary or coati, he is 
decorated with feathers like a mature hunter. 
During all this time, of course, he is also learn- 
ing to make bows and arrows and to repair those 
which have been broken on the hunt. Hence, by 
the time a boy has reached the age of 12, he is 
already a full-fledged hunter and is able to sup- 



ply a household of his own with game. At this 
age, girls, too, are ready for the responsibilities 
of adulthood. 


There are no puberty ceremonies for boys. Girls, 
however, are required to undergo certain rites 
before they are eligible for intercourse or marriage 
Sexual intercourse, with a girl who has not under- 
gone these rites is strictly taboo and is believed to 
be followed automatically by a supernatural 
sanction of sickness and death. 

Unfortunately I never had an opportunity to 
witness the puberty ceremonies for girls, but after 
I had been wandering with the band of Aciba- 
e6ko in September and October, 1941, I was told 
upon returning to Tibaera that a number of young 
girls from the band of Eantdndu were then in the 
forest undergoing these rites. I asked Eantandu 
to take me to where the ceremonies were being 
held, but he showed a great reluctance to do so, 
or even to suggest someone who might accompany 
me. He said that the rites were taboo and, besides, 
that he did not know where they were being held. 
I finally persuaded him, however, to suggest 
another Indian who agreed to accompany me. 
We set out in quest of tin' ceremonial party, but 
after walking about half a day, we met the 
participants returning. 

From what information I could gather from 
informants — members of the party and the girls 
themselves — it seems that all young girls are 
subjected to these rites shortly before they are 
married. Menstruation is not a prerequisite for 
undergoing the ceremonies. Just what the pre- 
requisites are I was never able to determine, be- 
yond the fact that the girls must be of about 
puberty age. The ceremonies do not take place 
at any particular times or places. They are held 
whenever there are a few girls whose parents 
decide that they are of about the right age to be 

The ceremonies are held near a water hole or 
stream about a day's journey from the house. 
Before proceeding to this site, the girls' heads 
are completely shaved with a bamboo knife. 
They are accompanied into the forest by their 
parents, and usually by a few old men and women 
who are members of the extended family. Some 
hunters may go along to supply the party with 
game. Upon arriving at the water hole or stream, 

the men construct a raised platform of poles on 
which the girls are required to sit during the 
ceremonies, which last for about 2 or 3 days. 
During this time they are subjected to repeated 
baths to purify them for intercourse and marriage. 
They are also told what foods they can and cannot 
eat during the period following the rites and before 
marriage. Adult members of the party sing and 
dance a great deal during the ceremonies. After 
about 2 or 3 days of such activity, the party returns 
to the house. 

Following these rites in the forest, the girls are 
not immediately available for intercourse and 
marriage. They must wait until their hair has 
again grown to the length of their chins, which 
takes about a year. During this time they are 
subjected to the following food taboos. They can- 
not eat guan, macaw, monkey, curassow, toucan, 
anteater, coati, harpy eagle, parrot, paca, arma- 
dillo, opossum, porcupine, fox, and eggs of any 
kind. The reasons for not allowing them to eat 
these foods were never made clear to me except 
in the case of eggs, which are believed to cause 
multiple births, and porcupine and anteater, which 
are believed to cause the birth of clubfooted 
children. The following foods, however, are not 
taboo: all vegetable foods, fruits, fish, tortoise, 
peccary, tapir, deer, agouti, duck, alligator, cormo- 
rant, otter, and squirrel. 

In addition to being subject to food taboos, 
adolescent girls, after they have undergone the 
ceremonies that take place in the forest but before 
they are eligible for marriage, must do considerable 
work for the first time in their lives. In many 
instances they have already been betrothed to 
potential husbands and therefore spend consider- 
able time preparing themselves for marriage: 
carrying firewood, twining string, spinning thread, 
grinding maize, weaving baskets, making pots, and 
collecting food. 

After the rites of puberty have been completed, 
a girl is no longer regarded as yukwdki (a girl), 
but is free to have intercourse with her potential 
husbands and to be married to one of them. In 
this connection it is interesting to note that there 
were a number of girls at Tibaera already married 
or having intercourse who had not yet menstru- 
ated. Ngidrt (Bow), a boy, for example, was 
married to Yiklna (Owl-monkey) while I was 
living at Tibaera. She was about 10 years of age 
and showed no signs of maturity at this time. 



Some 2 years later I made a plane flight to Lago 
Huachi on which some Siriono were camped, 
among them Ngida and Yikina. The latter was 
just beginning to show signs of adolescence after 
more than 2 years of marriage. In another in- 
stance, Kimbai-ndti (Little-man), a mature man 
whose wife had died, married Edab6bo (Armpit), 
a girl who had not yet reached adolescence. They 
lived together for some months while I was at 


The preferred form of marriage is that between 
a man and his mother's brother's daughter. 
Marriage between a man and his father's sister's 
daughter is forbidden. Preferential mating is 
thus of the asymmetrical cross-cousin type. In 
actual practice, however, the choice of a mate is 
not limited to a first cross-cousin. If such a rela- 
tive is not available for marriage, a second cross- 
cousin, a first cross-cousin once removed, a clas- 
sificatory cross-cousin, or a nonrelative may be 

Of the 14 marriages which I analyzed in one of 
the bands, 6 were between a man and his mother's 
brother's daughter. The rest were either between 
second cross-cousins, first cross-cousins once re- 
moved, classificatory cross-cousins, or nonrela- 
tives. Although marriage between a man and his 
father's sister's daughter is forbidden, I did, how- 
ever, find one instance of a secondary marriage 
between a man and his father's sister's daughter's 
daughter, i. e., his first cross-cousin once removed 
through his father's sister. But marriages of this 
kind are exceptional (secondary, etc.) rather than 
the rule, as attested by the fact that almost 50 
percent of them were between a man and his 
mother's brother's daughter. The preference for 
the latter type of marriage is also clearly reflected 
in the kinship system. A man calls his mother's 
brother's daughter "potential spouse," and a 
woman calls her father's sister's son "potential 
spouse," while a man calls his father's sister's 
daughter by the same term that he calls his father's 
sister, and a woman calls her mother's brother's 
son by the same term that she calls her brother's 

Except for the existence of such upsetting fac- 
tors as polygyny, divorce, death, sororate, levirate, 
etc., more marriages between preferred cross- 
cousins would likely occur. Because of one or 

another of these factors, however, there seems to 
be a tendency on the part of the adult men to 
marry younger second wives who stand in a classi- 
ficatory, rather than a real cross-cousin relation- 
ship to them. Hence, when a young man reaches 
marriageable age, he may find that his first cross- 
cousin lias already been taken to wife, and he is 
forced to marry a classificatory cross-cousin 
instead of his rightful spouse. 

In addition to acquiring a wife by cross-cousin 
marriage, a man may also obtain a first, second, 
third, or fourth wife by means of the sororate or 
the levirate both of which are practiced by the 
Siriono. Of the four plural marriages in one of 
the bands, three were between a man and two or 
more sisters. In the fourth, the man had acquired 
his second wife through the levirate. There is no 
set rule, however, that a man who marries a 
woman must also marry her sisters, or that a man 
must marry the wife of a brother on the occasion 
of the latter's death. If a man desires these 
wives, however, he has first claim upon them, and 
he usually takes advantage of his rights if the 
woman is young or otherwise desirable. 

Generally speaking, there is a strong tendency 
for brothers to marry sisters. Hence, the condi- 
tion which earlier evolutionary writers referred 
to as group marriage is commonly found among 
the Siriono. 

There are no fixed rules of endogamy or exog- 
amy. Bands are more endogamous than exog- 
amous, however, because they rarely have rela- 
tions with one another and because eligible mates 
can usually be found within one's own band. 
When bands do come in contact with one another, 
exogamous marriages may occur. Sometimes, too, 
when there are no available real or classificatory 
cross-cousins or nonrelatives in the band, a man 
may go in quest of a wife from another band. 
But instances of this kind are rare for several 
reasons. In the first place, to locate another band 
involves great effort; it may mean as many as 8 or 
10 days' journey on foot. In the second place, 
if a man does run across another band, he has no 
security of finding a wife there, since the men of 
that band are likely to hoard their women for 
themselves. In the third place, even though a 
man has no real wife in his own band, he may 
possess a number of potential wives and thus not 
lack for sexual partners. Finally, because of the 
rule of matrilocal residence, a man will think 



twice before abandoning bis relatives for a set of 
in-laws who may be hostile to him. 

The age requirements for marriage are very 
elastic. Infant betrothal is not practiced, but 
both boys and girls are often espoused before they 
have reached the age of maturity- Girls, how- 
ever, must undergo the puberty ceremonies prior 
to intercourse and marriage. Boys, on the other 
hand, undergo no rites or tests of any kind before 

The negotiations for marriage are made be- 
tween the potential spouses themselves, although 
the parents-in-law usually know beforehand when 
(he marriage is about to take place. The period 
of courtship is brief. It consists principally in an 
indulgence in sexual intercourse on the part of 
the potential mates and in their arrival at a deci- 
sion to set up house together. If a girl shows re- 
luctance to marry with her potential spouse, she 
is chided by her mother for her shortcomings and 
is thus usually forced into the marriage by 

The marriage itself takes place without cere- 
mony. This is literally true. No exchanges of 
property occur. The wedding is not even signified 
by such a simple act as a feast. The marriage 
rite consists merely in ;i notification of the parents- 
in-law of the decision to marry and of a removal 
of the man's hammock (residence) from its accus- 
tomed place in the house (next to that of his 
parents) to a position next to that of his wife's 
parents. Consequently matrilocal residence 
among the Siriono, when marriage is endogamous, 
consists of nothing more than a shift of locale 
within the same house. It is true that newlyweds 
become the butt of sexual jokes and horseplay for 
several days, but formal occurrences accompany- 
ing the union are completely lacking. In other 
life crises, such as births and deaths, the immediate 
participants are at least decorated with feathers, 
but in the case of marriage even this sign of 
festivity is lacking. 

Although matrilocal residence, in endogamous 
marriages, does not involve a very great spatial 
removal of a man from his relatives, it does 
produce a considerable change in his social 
obligations. After marriage, a man, instead of 
hunting for his parents, his sisters, and his un- 
married brothers, must hunt for his wife's parents, 
for her sisters, and for her unmarried brothers. 
While these obligations are reciprocal, a man 

usually supplies more game to his in-laws than he 
receives in return. A man's relations with his 
own family, however, are not completely dis- 
rupted. Besides being related to his in-laws by 
blood, he continues to reside in the same house 
as his family. Moreover, his brother may be 
married to his wife's sister. If not, his brother is 
at least a potential husband of his own wife with 
sex rights over her. Hence, brothers usually 
maintain close bonds after marriage. They 
continue to hunt together especially, even though 
their game may be distributed in different ways. 

Only in exogamous marriages are a man's 
relations with his family completely upset. Be- 
cause of economic, factors, resistance to such 
marriages sometimes arises. While I was at 
Tibaera, an exogamous marriage occurred which 
changed existing conditions considerably. A man 
named Kimbai-neti (Little-man) had been previ- 
ously married to a woman who died. Since there 
was no available spouse in the band for him to 
marry, he was without a wife. He continued to 
reside, however, with his mother-in-law and her 
other daughter who was married to another man. 
Kimbai-neti was an excellent hunter and brought 
a great deal of game into the household. When I 
arrived from the forest in company with the band 
of Aciba-eoko, Kimbai-neti located a potential 
spouse in this band. A marriage was arranged. 
His former mother-in-law, however, tried her best 
to break up the match, but without success. 
Kimbai-neti left her house and moved in with his 
new wife and in-laws. Consequently his former 
mother-in-law was forced to seek other means 
of support. Before doing so, however, she tried 
to convince Kimbai-neti and his new wife to 
violate the rule of matrilocal residence and move 
back to her house, but they would have none 
of such a plan. 

Polygyny is allowed, and sororal polygyny is 
preferred. Four of the fourteen marriages in 
the band of Eantandu were plural marriages, 
and three of these were sororal unions. Only 
in one instance was a man married to as many 
as five wives. Three of these were sisters, while 
the other two were parallel cousins (classifica- 
tory sisters) of these. This man was not a chief 
but a person of considerable maturity and dis- 
tinction, being about the best hunter in the 
band. The chief, however, had three wives, two 
of whom were sisters, while the third he had 



inherited from his younger brother who died. 
One of the chief's other brothers also had two 
wives who were sisters. In the other polygynous 
union, the man had inherited his second wife from 
his mother's brother who had died and left no 
other brothers to whom she could pass. On the 
whole, plural marriages tend to occur among the 
chiefs and the better hunters, who are people of 
the highest status. 

Divorce is relatively easy and is usually caused 
by adultery or by too frequent intercourse with 
potential spouses to the neglect of the real spouse. 
The men always divorce the women, i. e., they 
"cast them out" or "throw them away." In 
instances of this kind, the woman usually imme- 
diately marries one of her potential spouses with 
whom she has been having sex relations. Divorces 
are not common. Women are an asset as long 
as they can work and hear children, and more 
than one wife is a mark of status. Thus, although 
men frequently threaten to divorce their wives 
so as to keep them in line, they actually rarely 
ever do so. 

The children of divorced couples always remain 
with the mother. The father changes his resi- 
dence back to that of his relatives or to that of 
his new wife. He continues to supply his children 
with food, however, at least until the mother 
remarries. Relations between divorced couples 
are not particularly strained. No stigma attaches 
to a divorced woman, and she may even occasion- 
ally indulge in sex with her former husband. 


Adulthood is the time of life when responsibili- 
ties are the greatest and status the highest. 
Among the Siriono this state is signified by mar- 
riage and is attained when children are born. 
Bachelors and spinsters, of whom there are few, 
have little position in this society, where survival 
depends on all types of cooperation between 
husband and wife. 

The Siriono are ushered into adulthood pre- 
maturely if not abruptly. Younger than in most 
societies one must take the role of an adult, for 
younger than in most societies one grows old and 
dies. The rigors of life being intense, there is a 
50-50 chance at least that one's parents will not 
be alive when one reaches the childbearing age. 
Consequently boys and girls are frequently 

married before they have undergone the physio- 
logical changes that accompany adolescence. 

While the obligations of adulthood are not ex- 
treme (the needs of the society are minimal), the 
struggle for survival is intense. There is no secu- 
rity of food; there are long and forced marches 
through spiny jungle and swamp; there are many 
sleepless nights of wind, rain, and insect pests; 
there is constant threat of disease and death. 
In short, the natural environment is harsh, and 
the techniques which the culture has developed 
for dealing with it are crude and insecure. Hence 
a person must be on the alert most of his waking 
time to procure the bare necessities of life. 

While ceremonial life is almost negligible among 
the Siriono, membership in full adulthood is 
signified by participation in a bloodletting cere- 
mony and drinking feast which is called hidai- 
iddkwa. This is about the only ceremony per- 
formed by the Siriono. It was never held while 
I was living with them, but the marks on the 
arms of adult men and women were visible 
evidence that it is occasionally performed. 

Hidai-iddkwa, or arm piercing, is never carried 
out until one is adult and has had children. As 
Eantandu told me, "When a woman has had a 
child and a man is father of a child, they are 
ready for hidai-iddkwa." The principal reason 
for holding the ceremony is to get rid of old blood — 
to rejuvenate one. Eantandu said, "The blood is 
heavy; it must be 'thrown away'." Hidai- 
iddkwa also performs the magical function of 
increasing the supply of food. 

Under strictly aboriginal conditions the cere- 
mony is apparently held once a year, when the 
trees are flowering and there is an abundance of 
honey. Men and women collect large quantities 
of honey, and mead is brewed. While the mead 
is maturing, people participating in the ceremony 
have their hair cut, and are decorated with feathers 
and painted with uruku. 

The ceremony begins with a drinking feast. 
The men hold one; the women another. Children 
are tended by those too young to take part or by 
those not participating in the ceremony for other 
reasons. Singing and dancing are a prominent 
part of the festival. When the participants reach 
a drunken stage, they pierce each other in the 
arms with a dorsal spine of the sting ray, and the 
blood is let into small holes in the ground. Men 
usually perform the operation both on themselves 



and on the women. Each person is punctured 
about a half dozen times, the men on the lower 
arms from the wrist to the elbow and the women 
on the upper arms from the elbow to the shoulder. 
On the morning following bloodletting, the men 
depart for the hunt at the break of day, the 
women following (with baskets of ashes which 
they spread along the trail) to gather palm cab- 
bage. They return from the forest about noon, 
and drinking begins again. By the end of the 
second day the supply of mead has usually been 
exhausted, and the celebration ends. 

A general feast is not held during the ceremony, 
but people eat at their own fires. Old pots must 
be thrown away, and cooking is done in new ones. 
According to informants, the participants are 
not allowed to eat the following foods for about 
3 days after bloodletting: guan, coati, anteater, 
jaguar, deer, squirrel, otter, monkey, tortoise, 
fox, armadillo, paca, porcupine, agouti, and palm 
cabbage. If they violate these food taboos, it is 
believed that the wounds caused by bloodletting 
will become infected. Consequently, the game 
hunted by the participants is distributed to 
members of the extended family not taking part in 
the rites. According to Edko, the diet of the 
ceremonial party is limited to peccary, tapir, fish, 
and vegetable foods (except palm cabbage). 

No one is obligated to undergo hidai-iddkwa, 
but the scars left on the arms by bloodletting are 
always pointed to with pride. Every child as- 
pires to such a series of tribal marks, for they are 
visible evidence of maturity. 

Besides being a rejuvenation ceremony and a 
mark of adulthood, hidai-iddkwa is also believed 
to insure the supply of food. Kenda told me 
that during the ceremony the animals all come 
near the house to see the men gaily attired with 
feathers and uruku, and to hear them sing. 
Therefore, when the men go out to hunt after 
hidai-iddkwa, they always encounter game. 

The adult Siriono spends about half of his wak- 
ing time wandering around the forest in search of 
game and food. About one-third of this is spent 
alone, one-third with fellow hunters, and one- 
third on expeditions with his family. On the 
average hunting day he covers approximately 15 
miles. Uidess he is accompanied by his wife or 
fellow hunters, he alone carries in the game that 
he bags. He spends little time in his gardens 
except at sowing and harvest. His working day 

consists largely in hunting, fishing, and gathering . 

The adult female, on the other hand, spends 
much more of her time in the house. When the 
band or family is not on the march, she devotes a 
large part of each day to cooking, eating, attending 
children, quarreling with her neighbors, spinning 
cotton thread, twining bark-fiber string, weaving 
mats or baskets, coiling pots or pipes, repairing 
hammocks, preparing feather ornaments, carrying 
water, bringing in firewood, or collecting motacu 
fruits and palm cabbage, which are found in 
abundance just outside of every hut. She seldom 
goes any distance into the forest alone or in com- 
pany with other women. During the rainy season, 
however, she frequently makes excursions of a day 
or two with her husband to collect wild fruits, and 
during the dry season, she may be more or less 
continually on the march with the entire extended 
family in quest of food. Like her husband, she 
does little agricultural work, this being a relatively 
unimportant activity. 

When not wandering around the forest, the 
adult male is most frequently found in his ham- 
mock: resting, eating, smoking, playing with his 
children, arguing with his wife, cursing the weather, 
slapping insects, repairing or making arrows. 
Apart from these activities, he has little recreation. 
He has few friends but his immediate relatives; he 
plays no games; he indulges in no sports except 
occasional wrestling; he does not gamble; he rarely 
gets drunk, not more than six or eight times a year; 
he has no hobbies but sex, which he indulges in 
whenever the spirit moves him; he belongs to no 
clubs or associations; he has few magical or reli- 
gious obligations; he sometimes takes part in 
singing and dancing with his tribesmen on nights 
of the full moon, but only rarely (about once a 
year) joins them in drinking and bloodletting to 
restore his fading youth. All and all, his activi- 
ties remain on the same monotonous level day 
after day and year after year, and they are 
centered largely around the satisfaction of the 
basic needs of hunger, sex, and avoidance of 
fatigue and pain. 

The life of a woman is equally harsh, drab, and 
concerned with basic necessities of life. While a 
woman's position is little inferior to that of a man, 
the obligation of bringing her children to maturity 
leaves little time for rest. She enjoys even less 
respite from labor than her husband. Her recrea- 
tion is derived principally from the gossip and 



quarreling that occur around the fireside, when she 
is performing the routine household tasks that 
must be done each day. While she enjoys about 
the same privileges as her husband, the perennial 
presence of young children often prevents her from 
participation in the recreational activities that do 

The period of adulthood among the Siriono can 
hardly be termed a happy one. At best, an adult 
can look forward to occasional periods of food 
satiation, sexual satisfaction, and relief from 
anxiety and pain — a few years during which to 
bring his children to maturity so that they may 
carry on. By the time a person is 30 years of age, 
his powers begin to wane, and as he approaches 40, 
he is already in the category of old age. Shortly 
thereafter, he must make way for his grand- 
children and face his declining years in dependence 
and neglect. 


The aged experience an unpleasant time of it in 
Siriono society. Since status is determined largely 
by immediate utility to the group, the inability of 
the aged to compete with the younger members of 
the society places them somewhat in the category 
of excess baggage. Having outlived their useful- 
ness, they are relegated to a position of obscurity. 
Actually the aged are quite a burden. They eat 
but are unable to hunt, fish, or collect food; they 
sometimes hoard a young spouse but are unable to 
beget children; they move at a snail's pace and 
hinder the mobility of the group. 

Where existence depends upon direct utility, 
however, longevity is not great. The aged and 
infirm are weeded out shortly after their decrepi- 
tude begins to appear. Consequently, the Siriono 
band rarely contains many members who belong to 
generations above the parent or below the child. 
At Tibaera there were only four grandparent- 
grandchild relationships, and great-grandparents 
and great-grandchildren did not exist. Although 
this is a hazardous guess, the average life span of 
the Siriono — discounting infant mortality — prob- 
ably falls somewhere between the ages of 35 and 40. 

Besides the inability of the aged to perform as 
well as younger members of the society, certain 
physical signs of senescence are also recognized. 
Women who have passed through the menopause 
are assigned to the category of anility. Deep 
wrinkles, heavy beards in men, gray hair (occurs 

very rarely), stooped shoulders, and a halting gait 
are regarded as signs of old age. 

When a person becomes too ill or infirm to 
follow the fortunes of the band, he is abandoned to 
shift for himself. Since this was the fate of a sick 
Indian whom I knew, the details of her case will 
best serve to illustrate the treatment accorded the 
aged in Siriono society. The case in question 
occurred while I was wandering with the Indians 
near Yaguaru, Guarayos. The band decided to 
make a move in the direction of the Rio Blanco. 
While they were making preparations for the 
journey, my attention was called to a middle-aged 
woman who was lying sick in her hammock, too 
sick to speak. I inquired of the chief what they 
planned to do with her. He referred me to her 
husband who told me that she would be left to die 
because she was too ill to walk and because she 
was going to die anyway. Departure was scheduled 
for the following morning. I was on hand to 
observe the event. The entire band walked out of 
the camp without so much as a farewell to the 
dying woman. Even her husband departed with- 
out saying good-by. She was left with fire, a 
calabash of water, her personal belongings, and 
nothing more. She was too sick to protest. 

After the band had left, I set out in company 
with a number of Indians for the Mission of 
Yaguaru to cure myself of an eye ailment. On my 
return about 3 weeks later, I passed by the same 
spot again. I went into the house, but found no 
sign of the woman there. I continued my journey 
down the trail in the direction of Tibaera and 
soon came upon a hut in which the band had 
camped the day I parted from them. Just outside 
of this shelter were the remains (and hammock) 
of the sick woman. By this time, of course, the 
ants and vultures had stripped the bones clean. 
She had tried her utmost to follow the fortunes of 
the band, but had failed and had experienced the 
same fate that is accorded all Siriono whose days 
of utility are over. 


The principal ailments of which the Siriono are 
victims are malaria, dysentery, hookworm, and 
skin diseases. Among the aboriginal groups still 
surviving in the forest, venereal diseases and 
tuberculosis are as yet unknown, but under con- 
ditions of contact, these maladies have, been 



largely responsible for the declining population. 
Such tropical diseases as leprosy and yaws, 
although common among the whites, are unknown 
among the Indians. 

Knowledge of disease and medicine is not exten- 
sive. While a theory of natural causation is 
recognized with respect to such minor ailments as 
wounds, burns, and stomach trouble, the majority 
of maladies, as well as accidents, are thought to be 
caused by evil spirits called abacikicaia. These 
spirits enter the mouth or nose when a person is 
sleeping (especially when he is snoring) and settle 
in the regions where the pain is felt. 

In a confused sense there is also a belief that 
disease is caused by the absence of soul. A per- 
son's soul may leave his body while he is dreaming, 
and if it does much wandering during the night, 
he is apt to be tired and ill the following clay. 
Informants frequently told me that they were ill 
because their souls had been "hunting" or "walk- 
ing" tlie night before. 

The violation of taboos, too, especially food 
taboos, may be regarded as one of the principal 
causes of disease. The conditions following a 
breach of tribal custom are particularly favorable 
for the entrance into the body of the innumerable 
evil spirits which are ever present in nature. 

Sorcery and witchcraft seem to be almost neg- 
ligible as causes of disease. I never heard of a 
single instance in which individuals were accused 
of employing such methods to injure fellow tribi s- 
men. I was told, however, that threats of sorcery 
are not unknown as a means of keeping people in 
line. If a man has an enemy who has been causing 
him trouble, for instance, he may say to him, 
"Watch out, or I will take you with me when I 
die." But such admonitions are rarely used, 
however effective they may he as a means of 
deterring people from harming others. 

As sickness not infrequently leads to abandon- 
ment and death, the slightest provocation is cause 
for alarm. When ailments appear, the Indians 
take to their hammocks and rarely leave them 
until all symptoms of the disease disappear or 
until death overcomes them. The conditions for 
cure, however, are very adverse. The patient 
lies in his hammock on the side of which a smoky 
fire is kept burning, thus shutting him out from 
proper air. Moreover, the house is always dark, 
and since it offers but the flimsiest protection from 
the weather, the patient is constantly exposed to 

rain and cold. On the psychological side, con- 
ditions are even worse. The patient is himself 
filled with an intense anxiety that he is going to 
die, and this attitude is reinforced by his relatives, 
who do little or nothing to change it. 

The anxieties accompanying illness are, of 
course, very realistic among the Siriono, for they 
have almost no methods of effecting a cine. 
Shamans and medical practitioners are entirely 
lacking in this society, so that a patient must 
depend largely on the fortunes of chance in order 
to recover. Near relatives (always women), such 
as a mother or a wife, may sometimes chant over 
a person who is slightly ill, but if he takes a turn 
for the worse, he may be neglected and thus grad- 
ually die from lack of proper care. If the tribe 
is on the march, he may even be abandoned with 
no hope of recovery. Doubtless for this reason 
such a great fear of sickness exists. 

One of the principal signs of illness, apart from 
the pain that accompanies it, is the loss of appe- 
tite. When people cannot eat, they are believed 
to be very ill. If a person does not eat for several 
days, it is regarded as a sure sign that he will die. 
For this reason, patients never diet when they are 
ill. The anxiety based probably on the drive of 
hunger is sufficiently strong to enable people to 
eat when food is definitely detrimental to them. 
In several such instances which I observed, people 
actually ate themselves to death. 

While I was at Casarabe, Teko became sick 
with dysenterylike infection of the stomach. 
His illness coincided with the season of maturity 
of the wild fruit coquino, which is greatly relished 
by the Siriono. In view of the nature of his ill- 
ness, I suggested to Teko that he refrain from 
eating this fruit for several days because of the 
acid which it contains, often highly irritating to 
the stomach when eaten in large quantities. But 
my words had no effect. His relatives collected 
huge quantities of coquino during the day and 
brought Teko large baskets of them every night 
on their return from the forest. In spite of terrific 
stomach pains and diarrhea, he managed to eat 
as many as a hundred of these fruits (each one 
about the size of a large plum) each night, thus 
irritating his otherwise painful condition. After 
several clays of such a diet, he finally expired one 
morning, but not without having eaten a full 
basket of these fruits the night before. Until his 
death his prognosis had been good, according to 



native theory, because lie had been able to eat. 

In general the materia medica is sparse. Uruku, 
whose curing properties are believed to be very 
beneficial, is the panacea for all ills. Its powers 
are believed not only to drive out the evil spirits 
that cause disease, but to protect one from them 
as well. Consequently, in sickness or in health, 
the Indians are rarely seen without a protective 
covering of uruku. Whenever I myself was ill, 
uruku was always the first remedy suggested to 
me by my Indian friends. 

Scarification is widely practiced as a relief from 
pain. The suffering individual is scratched (by 
himself or by one of his relatives) with an eye 
tooth of a rat or squirrel in the area where the pain 
is felt. A small amount of "old blood" is re- 
leased by this practice, and the scarified area is 
covered with uruku. Massage, too, is employed 
to cure minor ailments. In chest complaints, for 
instance, the back and chest are vigorously rubbed 
with the hands and kneaded with the fists. Suck- 
ing and squeezing are most generally employed to 
extract pus from festering wounds. 

Herbal remedies are almost unknown, except in 
the treatment of diarrhea. A diarrhetic child is 
sometimes treated with a decoction made from 
the bark of a tree which the Siriono call hidi-ndi- 
mbi. Strips of the same bark are also wound around 
the patient's stomach. Green leaves are bound 
over open wounds and sores, and strips of bark 
fiber are bound tightly above infections of the 
arms and legs to prevent their spread. 

The Siriono possess no remedies for snake bite 
and have no knowledge of setting broken bones. 
Aching teeth are extracted with the fingers after 
they become loose. Hairy skin woims, of which 
the Indians are constant victims, are removed in 
the following manner. A small amount of the 
sticky substance from the inside of the pipe stem 
is extracted with a palm straw and placed in the 
hole where the worm resides. This irritates the 
worm which pushes out its head for air. It is 
then grasped by the head and squeezed until it 
pops out of the skin. 


For a Siriono, death is the culmination of an 
often short and always bitter struggle for sur- 
vival. Having wrestled valiantly to live, he 
wrestles equally valiantly not to die. But the 
odds are all against him. His environment and 

culture are harsh. Having no medicine to prolong 
his life, he is often consigned to an early grave; 
having no religion to calm his soul, he frequently 
dies with fear and bitterness in his heart. 

A dying individual, unless he is a child, is given 
little attention. His near relatives, however, 
generally assemble to watch him breathe his last. 
The women mourners sit on the ground around 
him and weep profusely, but the men show few 
signs of grief. They usually squat around him 
and silently smoke their pipes. When a great 
hunter is dying, however, fellow tribesmen some- 
times squat around him and ask him to pass them 
some of his luck. If, for instance, he was a great 
hunter of tapir in his day, they may ask him, 
"Grandfather, where can we find tapir?" He 
usually answers, "After I die go to (such and such 
a place) when the sun is rising and you will find 
tapir." On the sunrise following the disposal of 
the corpse, the men set out for the spot designated 
and often find a tapir there. 

Among the Siriono a person is not allowed to die 
in his hammock. Death in a hammock pollutes 
it, and it will have to be thrown away. Therefore, 
a dying individual is usually removed from his 
hammock several hours before death and placed on 
a mat woven from the heart leaves of motacu 
palm. Once on such a death mat a person seldom 
recovers. As he more closely approaches his fate, 
he is poked in the eyes or pinched in the genitals 
from time to time to note whether he still shows 
signs of life; his mouth is frequently opened to 
determine whether he is still breathing. Only 
when a person ceases to breathe is he regarded as 
dead. Once he is dead, however, little attention is 
paid to his corpse until disposal, which must take 
place before the next sunset. 

Aboriginally the Siriono do not bury their dead. 
The corpse, extended with arms to the side, is 
wrapped in two mats of motacu palm and placed 
on a platform in the house. It is not oriented in 
any special way. With the deceased are placed 
his calabashes filled with water, his pipes, and fire. 
No food is left. Once the corpse is disposed of the 
house is abandoned; but before leaving, the men 
shoot arrows in all directions through the house to 
drive out the evil spirits. The band then moves 
on to a new location — often several days' journey 

The period of mourning lasts about 3 days. On 
the day following the disposal of the corpse, 



mourners are scarified (by near relatives) on the 
upper and lower legs with an eye tooth of a rat or 
squirrel, and they rub their legs and faces with 
uruku. On the second day, they are decorated 
with the feathers of the harpy eagle, the curassow, 
and the toucan. With this protection they may 
resume normal life on the third day. 

Although grief-stricken parents and widows 
often do not eat for a day or two following the 
death of a beloved one, there are no food taboos 
that apply specifically to the period of mourning. 
Widows usually cry ceremonially about an hour a 
day for about 3 days during mourning, but apart 
from this they undergo no more strenuous rites 
than other relatives of the deceased. 

A widow or widower may remarry within a few 
days after the death of a spouse. In three deaths 
which I observed, the widows were married by 
levirate husbands on the third day after the 
mortuary rites. In two of these the widows passed 
to the deceased's oldest brother; in the third, to 
his parallel cousin (classificatory brother). 

While living with the Siriono, I never had an 
opportunity to observe a funeral under strictly 
aboriginal conditions. However, I was present 
at a number of deaths at Tibaera where, according 
to informants, the mortuary rites were essentially 
the same as those which take place in the forest, 
except that the corpse was interred and that the 
house was not abandoned. Some details of these 
will best serve to illustrate the treatment of the 
dead in Siriono society. 

Eresa-coko (Long-eyes), a bearded man of 
about 40 years of age, died in October 1941. 
About 10 days before his death, he was stricken 
with sharp pains in his stomach, accompanied by 
constant diarrhea. He told me that an abacikwaia 
(evil spirit) was responsible for his illness. During 
the 10 days that he lay sick, he was attended 
solely by his wife. Although she gave him no 
medicines of any kind, she stood by his hammock 
and hummed chants for an hour or so each day 
to drive out the evil spirits. This treatment 
being unsuccessful, she took six of Eresa-eoko's 
arrows and stuck them into the ground near the 
head of his hammock — also to drive out the evil 
spirits. But to no avail, for Eresa-eoko got worse 
and died shortly thereafter. 

In the morning of the day of Eresa-eoko's 
death, his wife wove two mats of motaeu palm. 
Eresa-c6ko was lifted from his hammock while 

still alive and placed on onefof these mats, where 
he lay groaning most of the morning. He vomited 
and defecated frequently. The vomit and excreta 
were cleaned up by his wife, who wrapped them 
in leaves and placed them in a special basket 
hanging nearby. She sat watch over him, open- 
ing his eyes and mouth, and pinching his testicles, 
from time to time, until he finally died at about 2 
o'clock in the afternoon. 

As soon as it was certain that Er£sa-e6ko was 
dead, his corpse was covered with a mat of 
motaeu and, within an hour's time, carried by 
several of his cousins about a quarter of a mile into 
the forest for interment. The funeral party con- 
sisted of five men — all cousins of the deceased — 
and the widow. Besides the corpse, they carried 
with them various possessions of the deceased: 
his drinking vessels full of water, his pipes, fire, 
and the basket containing his vomit and excreta 
of the previous 10 days. Upon arriving at the 
burial site, they dropped the corpse and these 
possessions to the ground, and a shallow grave 
was hastily dug with a digging stick by one of the 
men. This was lined with green boughs of the 
motaeu palm, and the deceased was rolled into it 
and buried. His calabashes and pipes were 
placed on top of the grave, and a small fire was 
built on either side. The vomit and excreta were 
then thrown away near the. grave, and the party 
returned to the house. Although the widow 
wept silently during the proceedings, not a word 
was said by a single member of the funeral party. 
After returning to the house, the men went to the 
river and bathed. 

On the day after the burial of Eresa-e6ko, his 
widow was scarified on the upper and lower legs 
by a cowife. Uruku was then applied to her legs 
and face, and she was decorated with feathers. 
She ate nothing for 2 days although she smoked 
her pipe almost continuously. She cried cere- 
monially for about an hour each morning for 3 
days, after which she moved her hammock next 
to that of one of the wives of Eresa-eanta, her 
husband's parallel cousin, to whom she passed 
under the levirate. Other members of the funeral 
party were also scarified and decorated with 

While I was living at Tibaera, an infant of about 
6 months of age died one morning about 1 1 o'clock. 
It had been ill for about 3 days with a stomach 
ailment, caused, according to the mother, by an 



evil spirit. After the death the mother began to 
wail terrifically (the Siriono always express deep 
grief over the death of a child) and shortly there- 
after emptied her breasts on the ground. About 
an hour later, she scraped up the wet dirt and 
put it into the basket where the child's excrement 
was stored. 

The child was interred about 4 o'clock the same 
afternoon. The parents were the only people who 
went to the grave besides myself. The mother 
carried the dead infant wrapped in the baby sling 
which she had been accustomed to transport it in, 
and it was buried in a shallow grave lined with 
green boughs of motacu. A fire was made on 
both sides of the grave before the parents returned 
to the house. Both fasted for the rest of the day. 
The following day they were scarified on the legs 
and decorated with feathers. The father ate 
on the day following the burial, but the mother 
continued her fast until the second day, when she 
resumed normal life, except for occasional periods 
of wailing. She continued to empty her breasts, 
however, to prevent them from drying up. 

The disposal of the corpse does not end contact 
with the dead. After the flesh has rotted, relatives 
of the deceased are obliged to return and bury the 
bones. If they are not buried, the soul of the 
deceased may return as an abacikwaia (evil spirit) 
or a kurukwa (monster) and cause illness and 
death to the surviving members of the family. 
The skull, however, is not interred. It is either 
carried back to the house, where it rests in a 
special basket near (or under) the hammocks of 
the immediate relatives of the deceased, or it is 
abandoned at the site where the bones are buried. 
In every Siriono hut one finds these skulls, which 
have been saved as protective family heirlooms; 
and in wandering around the Siriono country, one 
not infrequently encounters old skulls that have 
been thrown away. 

The skulls of the ancestors are preserved and 
carried around for a while as a protection from 
disease and death. They are also sometimes used 
in curing. No set rule determines whether a 
skull will be saved or thrown away. There is, 
however, a tendency to throw away old skulls 
as new deaths (and consequently new skulls) 
appear in the family, and there is also a proneness 

to save only the skulls of people greatly loved, 
such as young children, or of important personages 
in the family, such as great hunters or chiefs. 
Many mothers whom I knew in Tibaera were 
carrying around the skulls of infants who had 
died not long before. They all told me that 
they were apt to be sick if they did not follow this 
custom. In one family which I knew, the skull 
of a chief called Embutandu (Father-of-Bearded- 
one), had been carried around by one of his 
daughters for many years. Whenever any mem- 
ber of her family was ill, this skull was employed 
to effect a cure. On one occasion I walked into 
the house and found Nyeka, a son-in-law of the 
deceased Embutandu, "sick in the chest." He 
told me that he had an abacikwaia (evil spirit) in 
his chest which was causing him great pain. I 
asked him how he was going to cure his ailment. 
He picked up the skull of Embutandu, rubbed it 
across his chest for a few minutes, and then 
replied, "Tomorrow, I will not be sick." 

When skulls are employed in curing, no magical 
formulas are recited. Moreover, they are given 
no special treatment and care apart from being 
kept in a basket of their own. They are not 
worshiped, for example, and no offerings are made 
to them. On occasions, however, I have seen them 
covered with uruku to make them more effective 
in curing. 

With respect to the cult of the dead, I was told 
by my companion Silva, who had lived for many 
years among the Indians at Casarabe and Chiqui- 
guani, of another custom which he said prevails 
among the Siriono. He told me that when a 
man has had a long streak of ill luck in hunting 
he may repair to the spot where the bones of an 
ancestor — one who had been a great hunter — 
are buried and ask him to change his luck and to 
tell him wdiere to go in quest ol game. Upon 
inquiring of informants as to whether such a 
custom was practiced, I was answered in the 
negative by most of them. A few, however, 
told me that others may have followed such a 
practice, but that they themselves had never done 
so. I might add that during all of my residence 
among the Siriono — and the hunting was fre- 
quently bad — I never observed an Indian carry 
out such a rite. 





Native religion has not reached a high degree of 
elaboration among the Siriono. One of the 
reasons for this may be that the Indians are 
forced to devote most of their time and energy to 
the immediate straggle for survival. Both sha- 
mans and priests are lacking in this unprofessional 
society, and the confused beliefs and practices that 
are adhered to with respect to the supernatural 
world have not been integrated into a complex 
religious system. As in all societies, however, a 
distinction between the sacred and profane, the 
holy and unholy, is clearly drawn by the Siriono. 
The existence of taboos, of ceremony, of belief in 
evil spirits, etc., all bear witness to a concern with 
religious matters. 

In this simple society, however, there is no 
belief in a hierarchy of gods who control the 
destiny of man. Yasi (Moon) is the only super- 
natural being which the Siriono believe in. As 
has already been mentioned, mythology imparts 
considerable power to this culture hero who was 
responsible for the creation of the world and all 
that is in it, and attesting to the fact that the 
moon still plays some role in the affairs of men are 
such beliefs as that the moon causes thunder and 
lightning by hurling peccaries ami jaguars down 
to earth and that to sleep under the rays of the 
moon causes blindness. But the moon can 
scarcely be regarded as a supernatural being in the 
usual religious sense. It exerts little or no influ- 
ence on the affairs of men, and no cult has grown 
up around it. 

The core of Siriono religious belief is centered 
in the fear of animistic spirits. The universe is 
thought to be peopled with detached evil spirits 
called abacikwaia, which are responsible for most 
of the misfortunes that befall the human race 
Thus cold south winds, accidents, illnesses, bad 
luck, deaths, etc., are ascribed to the intervention 
of abacikwaia. These spirits are invisible and 
formless, little can be done to control them, and 
they are neither worshiped nor propitiated in any 
way. They can best he avoided by adhering to 
the traditional customs of the band. 

The Siriono also believe in monsters, of whom 
they have great fear. These are called kurukwa. 

Unlike the abacikwaia, which are invisible an? 
formless, the kurukwa are visible and somewhat 
resemble human beings. But they arc large, 
ugly, black, and hairy. These monsters lurk 
outside of the house at night, where they await 
their victims, carry them off into the forest, and 
strangle them. Sometimes the kurukwa even 
come into the house and snatch people from their 
hammocks while they are sleeping. During the 
day, however, there is little danger of the kurukwa. 
They have great fear of the bow and arrow. 
Consequently hunters are never assaulted. 

Informants told me that the kurukwa are 
especially fond of waiting outside of the house 
on nights of drinking feasts. When the men are 
drunk, they often go outside of the house to 
urinate or defecate. The kurukwa await them 
at the edge of the forest and say, "Man yen 
ererSkwa heri" ("What is the name of your 
chief?"). (The kurukiva are especially fond of 
killing chiefs.) If the men impart the name of 
the chief to the kurukwa, they will not be harmed; 
if not, they may be carried off into the forest and 

The kurukwa are believed to have companions 
like men. When they are unable to find human 
victims, they himt tapir, peccary, and other 
animals. Kenda, who was one of my best 
informants at Casarabe, told me that it was 
dangerous to let my horse ran loose at night 
because a kurukiva might strangle him. 

Many informants identified both abacikwaia 
and kurukwa with ghosts of the dead. Some time 
after the death of Teko, an Indian of Casarabe, 
Kenda told me that he had become a kurukiva and 
that he had been seen hi the forest by other men. 
At Casarabe one night an old woman was attacked 
by a kurukwa while alseep in her hammock — 
just 3 days after the death of her husband. I 
fired a pistol to drive the kurukiva away, but for 
several nights thereafter the woman slept with 
an arrow by her side so as to be aide to resist 
attack. In another instance a widow at Casarabe 
remarried without undergoing the usual 3-day 
period of mourning. She was severely criticized 
by her tribesmen, who thought that her dead 
husband would return as a kurukwa to wreak 
vengeance on the group. 




Magic, like religion, is little elaborated among 
the Siriono. Most magical practice that has 
not already been described has to do in one way 
or another with increasing anil insuring the supply 
of food. Hunters hang up the skulls of the 
animals and the feathers of the birds which they 
bag on sticks near camp or on posts in the house 
to influence the same animals to return. They 
smear their faces with uruku ami glue feathers 
into their hair to make them more attractive to 
game. They also frequently paint the cotton 
string of then- arrows and wrist bands with 
uruku to give them magical charm. When they 
kill a harpy eagle, they rub their bodies and 
hair with the white downy feathers of the breast 
to absorb some of the power of this mighty bird. 
They sing and dance not only for recreation but to 
promote the supply of game as well. All these 
and many other magical practices already men- 
tioned appear to have as their principal function 
a reduction of the anxiety that centers around 
the satisfaction of hunger. 


Dreams are thought to be caused by absence 
and wandering of the soul. Generally they are 
believed to presage the future. Hunters who 
dream about hunting a certain animal believe 
that this is a sign that they will kill one, and 
after such a dream they often go on a successful 
chase. One night Eantandu dreamed that he 
killed a tapir. Early the following morning, he 
departed for the hunt and returned late in the 
afternoon having bagged his prize. He told me 
that he knew he was going to shoot a tapir because 
he had dreamed about it. Such experiences are 
common among the Siriono and strongly reinforce 
the belief that dreams foretell the future. 

If dreams are an unconscious expression of 
desires, then those of the Siriono clearly reflect 
their preoccupation with the quest for food. 
While I was only able to record data on some 50 
dreams, more than 25 of these are related directly 
to the eating of food, the hunting of game, and 
the collecting of edible products from the forest. 
An especially common type is one in which a 
person dreams that a relative who is out hunting, 
has had luck and is returning to camp with game 
for him. Enia, for example, had a dream that 

Eantandu, who was out on the chase, killed a 
great many peccaries and was returning to camp 
with broiled peccary meat for him. Another 
recurring type of dream is one in which a person 
himself is out hunting, and kills and eats a great 
deal of game. Kenda reported a dream in which 
he was hunting fish in a certain lagoon and shoot- 
ing huge quantities. His brother was with him, 
and they roasted and ate fish until they could 
not move. Dreams also reflect strong desires 
to eat certain kinds of food. Before the ripening 
of the coquino fruit, which is greatly relished 
because of its sugar content, Ai-a dreamed that 
she was in the forest collecting with her husband 
and that they encountered coquino trees loaded 
with ripe fruit, which they ate until they were 

One of the striking things about food dreams is 
that they seem to occur just about as often when 
a person is not hungry as when he is hungry. 
The food dream of Kenda, for example, was 
reported the morning following a feast in my 
house the night before. Hence, it would seem, 
that such dreams reflect considerable concern 
about food. Indeed, an intense psychological 
analysis of the dream life of the Siriono — which 
I have neither the data nor the skill to make — 
might support the theory that hunger is the most 
intense motivating force in the society. 


Ideas about the soul among the Siriono are con- 
fused and vague. When questioned about such 
matters, informants displayed a singular apathy 
for discussing them. Whether such attitudes 
spring from a lack of ideas, from a fear of the dead, 
or from some other reason, I was never able to de- 
termine. Some Indians said that the soul resides 
in the head; others, that it resides in the heart; 
still others, that they did not know. 

Prof. Richard Wegner (1934 b, p. 21) has made 
the claim that the Siriono have a belief in an 
afterworld called Mbaerunya, to which the souls 
of good hunters depart after death and where they 
while away their time drinking maize beer with a 
Celestial Grandfather who has many wives. Since 
this statement has already been emphatically de- 
nied by Padre Ansclm Schermair (1934, p. 520), 
I need no more than mention here that I, too, 
found no evidence to corroborate such a belief in 



a hereafter. While notions of an afterlife have 
crept in where the Indians have had contacts with 
the whites, these are clearly assignable to Christian 

Upon inquiring of informants as to the fate of 
their souls after death, I was ahnost always given 
the answer that they did not know. There 
seemed, however, to be general agreement that 
the soul of the deceased may become an abacikvmia 
(evil spirit) or a kurukwa (monster), but this form 
of survival informants were reluctant to contem- 
plate for their own souls. Out of the confusion 
of ideas (or lack of them) that exist on the subject, 
it vaguely appears that the soul of a "good" man, 
i. e., one who has ahided by tribal custom and has 

the respect of his countrymen, does not return in 
the form of an evil spirit or monster to harass 
his surviving relatives, but that that of a "bad" 
man, i. e., one who breaks tribal taboos and is 
disliked by his countrymen, may return in one of 
these forms to cause sickness and death to the 
living. That the souls of some of the dead can be 
relied upon to assist the living is clearly indicated 
by the aforementioned practice of employing the 
skulls of some ancestors to cure disease. Inform- 
ants, however, were never able to supply me with 
any clear-cut ideas as to what happens to the soul 
of a "good" person after death. One thing seems 
clear as regards eschatological belief: there is no 
afterworld to which the soul departs. 


Siriono society presents any number of impor- 
tant anthropological problems, only a few of 
which can be mentioned here. Having presented 
in the foregoing sections a few of the descriptive 
data about the nature of Siriono society, I should 
like especially to include a few closing remarks, 
based on the Siriono data, about the problem of 
hunger frustration and its relation to culture. 
In this discussion, I propose ultimately to suggest 
a number of broad generalizations about the rela- 
tionship between intense hunger frustration and 
habits and customs that perhaps can and should 
be tested in other societies where similar condi- 
tions exist It is beyond the scope of this paper 
to deal with this matter cross-culturally. Before 
turning to a consideration of this problem, how- 
ever, it will lie necessary to clarify a number of 

Physiologists and psychologists are now agreed 
that the human organism is stimulated to behave 
by what are known as drives. These drives are 
the motivating states of an organism. They are 
of two kinds: primary (basic or innate) and sec- 
ondary (derived or acquired). The primary 
drives are those which result from the normal 
biological processes and recur at more or less 
regular intervals, such as hunger, thirst, sex, 
fatigue, and pain. 8 These are found in all human 

' Because of absence from the United States, lack of good library facilities, 
and exigencies of publication, I have not had an opportunity to examine 
all of the literature pertaining to subjects here discussed. While my con- 
clusions are based upon data from but one society, I feel that they might be 
suggestive for work in others. It is for this reason that I am publishing them 
now, even though incomplete. 

8 For a list of primary drives, see Murdock, 1945, pp. 127-128 

beings. Secondary drives, on the other hand, are 
learned drives. They are the motivations which 
result from particular cultural situations. The 
secondary drives, of course, are based on the 
primary drives and are supported by the satisfac- 
tion of them. But unlike primary drives they are 
not universally the same. There are doubtless 
some secondary drives, like prestige and appetites, 
that are found in all societies; but their intensities 
and definitions, at least, vary widely from person 
to person and from society to society. Among the 
ancient Romans, for example, food preferences 
were elaborated to a pronounced degree, while 
among the Siriono there is almost no expression 
of these secondary drives. Similarly, among the 
Indians of the northwest Pacific coast the drive 
for prestige is intense, while among the neighbor- 
ing Eskimo this drive is but weakly developed. 9 

While it is axiomatic that every society must 
reinforce or satisfy the basic drives of man in order 
to survive, up until recent times culture has been 
little studied from the point of view of the effect 
of basic drives upon it. We know from the 
ethnological literature now available that the 
drives of man are satisfied by almost as wide a 
variety of techniques as there are societies existing 
throughout the world. But ethnologists have 
focused most of their attention on describing the 
diverse habits and customs that exist in human 
societies and have laid little stress on the role 
played by basic drives in shaping them. 

1 For an excellent discussion of secondary drives, see Miller and Dollard, 
1941, pp. 54-68. 



Malinowski I0 was perhaps the first notable 
modern anthropologist to pay much heed to the 
impact of basic drives on culture. He founded 
his functional system on a series of drives which 
he called the "basic needs of man." In the socio- 
logical field a similar point of view was expressed 
by Sumner and Keller (1927), who founded their 
sociological system on a number of universal 
drives. More recently, largely from the stimulus 
of psychoanalysis and behavioristic psychology, 
the study of culture from the point of view of 
drives (primary and secondary) has received 
notable expression in the works of — to mention a 
few— Miller and Dollard (1941), Ford (1945), 
Whiting (1941), Murdoch (1945), Mead (1935), 
Benedict (1934), Linton (1945), Gorer (1938), 
and DuBois (1944). None of these, or other 
workers, however, has dealt with a society in 
which the drive of hunger is so constantly frus- 
trated as to have become the dominant motivating 
force in shaping habit and custom. Siriono 
society seems, clearly, to be such a society. 

From the data that have already been presented, 
especially those relating to food, it would seem, 
indeed, that the most crucial problem with which 
the Siriono have to deal is that of securing enough 
to eat, and the fact that they have been much 
less successful than most societies in solving their 
economic problems has doubtless elevated hunger 
to its preeminent role as a motivating force in 
the society. The reasons for this are numerous 
and varied: physiological, environmental, and 
cultural. An analysis of the data suggests that 
the following are the principal factors that affect 
the quest for food and that result in the dominant 
motivating force of hunger. 

I. Physiological factors. 

A. Hunger drive. 

B. Secondary drives based on hunger drive. 11 

1. Strong secondary drive or appetite for 


2. Satisfaction of prestige based primarily 

on hunger. 

3. Sexual appetites to some extent based 

on hunger. 

4. Aggression expressed in terms of food. 

5. Anxieties center largely around satis- 

faction of hunger. 

C. Sex drive mobilized principally through 


1. Family founded on economic basis. 

2. Extramarital sex partners seduced 

through rewards of food. 

D. Fatigue drive. 

1. Long forced marches in quest of 


2. Tree climbing to harvest fruits, to 

retrieve game. 

3. Running through swamp and jungle 

in chase of quarry. 

4. Burden carrying. 

E. Pain drive. 

1. Spines and thorns in body. 

2. Accidents (falling from trees, etc.). 

3. Attacks by animals (jaguars, snakes, 

alligators, etc.). 

4. Suffering from heat, cold, and rain. 
II. Environmental factors. 

A. Sparse supply of food. 

B. Aleatory factors. ,a 

1. High probability of nonsuccess in 
food quest. 

C. Climate unfavorable for preservation and 

storage of food. 
III. Cultural factors. 

A. Technological insufficiency. 

1. Cumbersome weapons. 

2. Lack of tools, traps, etc. 

3. Sparse development of agriculture. 

4. No methods of preserving and stor- 

ing food. 

A more detailed examination of some of these 
factors will perhaps better explain why it is that 
hunger becomes such a potent motivating force in 
Siriono society. In the first place, the supply of 
food, while sufficient for survival, is seldom abund- 
ant. People actually suffer frequently from food 
deprivation. As well as being sparse, the food sup- 
ply is highly insecure; chance factors with respect 
to the food quest here play a much more significant 
role in affecting culture and behavior than in most 
other societies. When a hunter sets out in search 
of game, there is a high probability that his hunt 
will be unsuccessful or at least only partially re- 
warding. True, the forest contains some foods, 
such as palm cabbage and nuts, that are available 
and abundant the year around and others, such as 
certain wild fruits, that are relatively plentiful for 
about 4 months of the year, but these in themselves 
are not nutritive enough to sustain life for Ions; 

•° See, for example, Malinowski, 1939. 

11 These factors, of course, are also cultural. 

" These factors, like secondary drives, are also cultural. 




periods of time. The society, furthermore, is not 
equipped with cultural techniques for dealing with 
its environment so as to offer surety of food sup- 
ply. Agriculture is but little developed; weapons 
are cumbersome; tools are almost lacking; and 
food is neither stored nor preserved in any abund- 
ance or for any length of time. 

Accompanying these frustrating conditions are 
others adverse to the satisfaction of the hunger 
drive, especially the fatiguing and painful aspects 
of the food quest. The hunter and gatherer must 
go in search of food at least every other day through- 
out the year. He must walk long distances, as 
many as 20 miles a day, in his quest for food. He 
may be forced to run at top speed through almost 
impenetrable jungle and swamp to bag a single 
monkey or coati, and once having bagged his prize 
he may be forced to climb a tree to retrieve it or 
the arrow with which he shot it. Game and forest 
products must always be carried back to camp- 
sometimes a long distance away. In walking and 
running through swamp and jungle the naked 
hunter is exposed to thorns, to spines, and to 
insect pests; he may fall from a tree (as he fre- 
quently does) while harvesting fruits or retrieving 
game; he is exposed to attacks from jaguars, 
alligators, and poisonous snakes; he sometimes 
suffers intensely from heat, cold, and rain. At 
least 25 percent of the time he returns to camp 
empty-handed or with insufficient food to com- 
pletely nourish his family, for which he may be 
chided by his relatives. In short, while the food 
quest is differentially rewarding because food for 
survival is always eventually obtained, it is also 
always punishing because of the fatigue and pain 
inevitably associated with hunting, fishing, and 
collecting food. 

Psychologically speaking, these are the condi- 
tions that give rise to the preoccupation of the 
Siriono with food problems, to their affective at- 
titudes toward food, and to their strong secondary 
drives based on the drive of hunger. The antici- 
pation of the intensely punishing aspects of the 
food quest — actual food deprivation, possible non- 
success on the hunt, fatigue, pain, and other forms 
of punishment— tends to evoke strong anticipatory 
responses with respect to food. These anticipa- 
tory responses — for example, strong food responses 
to weak hunger stimuli — are, in effect, secondary 
drives. For purposes of this discussion they may 
be regarded as appetite and anxiety responses. 

Actually psychologists are not yet agreed as to 
the differences between the secondary drives of 
appetite and anxiety. A satisfactory definition 
of and a distinction between these two concepts, 
though potentially of great value in a systematic 
analysis of culture and human behavior, has yet 
to be developed. Recently staff members 13 at 
the Institute of Human Relations, Yale University, 
have proposed the following definitions. 

Appetite is a secondary drive whose motivating response 
is anticipatory and whose original response is a para- 
sympathetic response which occurred just prior to or during 
the goal act of a given drive. 

Anxiety is a secondary drive whose motivating response 
is anticipatory and whose original response is a sympathetic 
response which occurred just prior to or during the goal 
act of a given drive. 

In the above definitions, the distinction between 
appetite and anxiety, although both are anticipa- 
tory responses, rests on the assumption that in 
the case of the former the original response arises 
in the parasympathetic nervous system, while in 
the case of the latter it arises in the sympathetic 
nervous system. This is essentially the position 
taken by Mowrer (1940), who has dealt at some 
length with the problem of anxiety. It is doubt- 
ful, however, whether this distinction is of much 
practical utility in the analysis of cultural be- 
havior. In the case of the Siriono data the im- 
portant fact to consider is that there are strong 
anticipatory responses toward food. Some of 
these may be purely appetitive responses, others 
anxiety responses, and still others a combination 
of both. These anticipatory responses result, 
moreover, not from a single factor, but from a 
combination of all the factors listed above. 

Attention should be called to the fact that 
anticipatory responses toward food in Siriono 
society may be due, in part at least, to the con- 
flicting factors that affect the quest for food. 
These conflicting factors seem to be much more 
pronounced among the Siriono than among most 
other peoples. On the one hand, a man is 
strongly motivated (and eventually forced, of 
course) to go in search of food because of a 
mounting hunger drive, a desire for prestige, or 
the need for a sexual partner. On the other hand, 
he is also strongly motivated to lie in his hammock 
and to postpone the search for food as long as 

i J These definitions were developed by Dr. I. Child, Dr. John W. M, 
Whiting, and Dr. Clellan S. Ford. They have not been published as yet 



possible, because of the painful, fatiguing, and 
otherwise punishing aspects of the food quest. 
Before a Siriono picks up his bows and arrows to 
go on a hunt he doubtless asks himself: "Should 
I or should I not go?" His stomach stimulates 
him to go; his relatives tell him to go; he may be 
motivated to leave by a desire to eat tapir, to 
seduce a potential wife, to acquire or maintain 
status, or for any number of other reasons. But 
when he recalls his last or earlier hunt — an oc- 
casion when he came back empty-handed after 
having tramped all day through jungle and swamp, 
when he was chided by his relatives for his lack of 
success or skill, and when he returned with his 
feet full of spines and thorns and his body covered 
with wood ticks and insect bites — his ardor to 
leave is likely to be considerably dampened. Under 
these conditions he is apt to try to get food first 
by some other means, and if unsuccessful, even to 
lie down in his hammock for a while until the 
hunger drive, or the social pressure to go hunting, 
becomes unbearable. In any case, if there is food 
around, he is not likely to expose himself to the 
rigors of the jungle before it is all consumed, for 
if he departs under these conditions he is certain 
to find when he returns that the food has already 
been eaten by someone else. These conflicting 
factors are doubtless responsible for much of the 
behavior toward food. 14 

The evidence for strong appetitive and anxiety 
responses toward food in Siriono society is over- 
whelming. Hasty preparation of food, lack of 
complex recipes, absence of standardized routines 
of eating, stealing off into the forest to eat, wolf- 
ing food, overeating, reluctance to share food, lack 
of food preferences except on a quantitative basis, 
absence of etiquette and ritual with respect to food, 
eating when sick, eating when not hungry, exces- 
sive quarreling over food, fantasies and dreams 
about food, insults in terms of food, etc., may all 
be regarded as direct manifestations of the 
strength of the secondary drive of eating and of 
the anxiety that centers around the satisfaction 
of the hunger drive. 

How do such attitudes and behavior toward food 
arise and develop in the Siriono child? A glance 
at the data from the life cycle clearly indicates 
that adult behavior toward food cannot be ac- 
counted for on the basis of the experiences of in- 

«* For an excellent discussion of anxiety and conflict, see Mowrer. 1940, 
pp. 126-128. 

fancy and early childhood. The nursing infant 
is almost never deprived of food ; whenever he cries 
his mother offers him the breast. He is greatly 
loved. He is exposed to almost no punishment 
except what he indirectly suffers from the rigors of 
the environment, but his parents do everything 
they can to protect him from cold south winds, 
from rain, and from insect pests. He can express 
aggression freely; he is not forced to walk or talk 
early; weaning is not a traumatic experience. In 
short, the infant is rarely punished or frustrated. 
Hence the conditions existing in infancy are not 
favorable for giving rise to the food anxiety 
manifested in adulthood. 

After weaning, however, conditions change, and 
somewhat abruptly. However gradual parents 
try to make the transition from infancy to child- 
hood, it is not always possible. Once the child 
has ceased to nurse, his food supply becomes 
uncertain; he begins to feel his first serious 
hunger pangs. His father may have obtained 
nothing on the himt; he may have brought home 
only varieties of game which are taboo for a child 
to eat; he may have secured only a small amount 
of game, not sufficient to completely nourish his 
family; rain or flood may have prevented him 
from making an expedition in quest of food. 
Consequently, after the child is weaned, the 
response of crying which formerly always resulted 
in food is no longer always rewarded because 
there may be no food present at the moment. As 
the child grows older and more independent of his 
parents, the periods of actual food deprivation 
become more frequent and more intense. Younger 
siblings appear in the family and receive preferen- 
tial treatment. Accompanying the pangs of 
hunger are the sufferings of fatigue and pain. The 
child is no longer carried, but must walk long 
distances with his parents in quest of food. No 
longer does he receive protection from cold south 
winds, from rain, and from insect pests. His feet 
become filled with spines. He suffers from skin 
worms, scorpion bites, and lack of sleep. 

These are the conditions which provide the 
learning situation out of which a strong appetite 
for eating and an intense realistic anxiety about 
food arise in the Siriono child. These secondary 
drives develop soon after weaning and rise in in- 
tensity as the child grows older and more inde- 
pendent of his parents. By the time a youth 
reaches the age of 10, he is already manifesting 



most of the signs of adult behavior toward food. 
In general, he is aggressive in all matters that per- 
tain to food. He fights and quarrels for his share 
of food ; he manifests a strong reluctance to share 
food; he wolfs his food; he eats principally at 
night; during the day he may steal off in the 
forest to eat; he eats when he is ill or not hungry; 
he lies about food; he even dreams about food. 
Indeed, if the Siriono had developed eschatological 
concepts, the afterworld would probably be a place 
where food, above all things, would be found in 
abundance and plenty. 

In addition to the above-mentioned individual 
responses, which we may regard as direct mani- 
festations of hunger frustration and anxiety in 
Siriono society, it appears that these conditions 
likewise occasion indirect manifestations by which 
we may characterize the society as a whole. Cul- 
turally, Siriono society exists on a very backward 
level. Technology is sparse; art is almost absent; 
social and political organization are relatively 
simple; there is an unconcern for intellectual and 
speculative matters. While unquestionably many 
factors — perhaps hundreds — operate to produce 
these conditions, yet it seems likely that the pre- 
occupation with food problems — resulting in what 
we have called hunger anxiety — is one of the most 
significant ones. From my observations among 
the Siriono most of the native's time is spent on 
the quest for food or resting from it; under condi- 
tions of this kind, little seems to remain for the 
pursuit of other activities. While it is dangerous 
to generalize about such complex problems it does 
not seem likely that highly elaborated cultures 
would emerge under conditions similar to those 
found among the Siriono. Rather, cultures would 
change slowly and remain on a backward level. 
This is precisely what the Siriono data indicate. 

In Siriono society we note, moreover, what ap- 
pears to be a dominance of hunger over all other 
primary drives, except possibly that of fatigue. 
The Siriono, of course, do not suffer from lack of 
air or water, so such needs can be largely dis- 
counted as strong motivating forces in the society. 
But the dominance of hunger over sex seems un- 
mistakable. While the drive of sex is seldom 
frustrated to any great extent, it is mobilized 
largely through the drive of hunger. The family 
is founded on an economic basis. Marital partners 
are secured by providing food and economic 
security. Extramarital sex partners are acquired 

primarily tlirough rewards of food. The pref- 
erence for fat women over lean women and for 
food-gathering women over skilled potters or ham- 
mock makers suggests that even sexual appetites 
are based primarily on the drive of hunger. This 
is clearly observable among the women, who prefer 
good hunters to all other partners. 

Actually, when food is scarce there is little ex- 
pression of sex. On one expedition which I made 
into the forest with the Siriono for a period of 
about 6 weeks, I observed that there was little 
sexual activity during periods of food deprivation, 
but that excessive activity followed periods of 
food satiation. This, coupled with other data, 
leads to the conclusion that periods of food de- 
privation are generally accompanied by sexual 
abstinence while periods of food satiation are fol- 
lowed by sexual excesses. Such behavior seems 
to indicate the dominance of hunger over sex in 
Siriono society. 

While the problem of the relationship between 
primary drives needs much further investigation, 
both in our own and in other societies, it seems as 
if Siriono society compensates its members for 
suffering from intense hunger frustation by allow- 
ing them great license in the realm of sex. I fre- 
quently observed that children were shown greater 
love when they were suffering from hunger, fatigue, 
or pain than at other times. With young children 
love was constantly used as a palliative. So, too, 
in adulthood sex freedom may compensate for 
hunger frustration. 

Another indirect consequence of hunger frus- 
tration is that the strongest secondary drives 
among the Siriono seem to be those based on the 
primary drive of hunger. The strong appetite for 
eating has already been mentioned. Prestige, too, 
though not a prominent secondary drive, is based 
primarily on a person's ability as a food getter. 
Chiefs are always good hunters. Sexual appetites 
are also founded to some extent on the drive of 
hunger. Finally, the most aggressive behavior is 
expressed in terms of and over questions of food, 
and anxieties seem to center principally around 
the satisfaction of hunger. 

Indeed, if the psychoanalysts are correct in their 
interpretations of behavior in our own society, the 
situation found among the Siriono is in many 
respects reverse. While the strongest secondary 
drives and anxieties in our own society arise from 
sex frustration, among the Siriono they may arise 



from hunger frustration, and while food often 
compensates for sex deprivation in our own 
society, among the Siriono love appears frequently 
to serve as a compensation for hunger. Hence it 
would seem unsafe to generalize the findings of 
psychoanalysis, based on data from our own 
society, to other societies where drive conditions 
are not comparable. 

The treatment of the sick and the aged in 
Siriono society appears indirectly to reflect hunger 
frustration. When a person becomes too old or 
too sick to hunt, to gather food, to bear children, 
or otherwise to take an active role in the society, 
he becomes a liability. If treated indulgently, 
the sick and aged might prove such a burden as 
actually to threaten the survival of the group. 
Consequently, people who are extremely ill or 
decrepit and whose period of usefulness is over 
are abandoned to die. 

It might seem strange that the Siriono do not 
follow a similar practice toward deformed infants. 
Attention has already been called to the fact that 
some 15 percent of native infants are born with 
clubfeet. Considering that only about one hi five 
such infants reaches adulthood, marries, and raises 
a family, it is rather surprising that the Siriono do 
not kill or abandon them when they are born. 
But such is not the case. During infancy club- 
footed children are treated with as much love and 
respect as normal children. There are doubtless 
several reasons for this. In the first place, chil- 
dren enjoy a favored status in Siriono society. 
They are loved to excess and overindulgently 
treated. While a Siriono thinks nothing of 
abandoning the aged or sick adult, he would look 
with horror and disgust at anyone who abandoned 
or killed a child. In the second place, deformed 
infants, unlike the dependent aged, do not 
threaten the food supply of others. They nurse 
until they are about 3 years of age, and even as 
young children they eat much less than an aged 
adult. Finally, there is at least a 20 percent 
chance that a deformed infant will grow up to be 
a useful member of society, while it is a certainty 
that an aged dependent will always remain a 

It is probably true that magical practice in 
Siriono society is likewise largely a function of 
hunger frustration. While the data from this 
aspect of culture are sparse, they relate principally 
to the quest for food. Attention has already been 

called to the fact that hunters do not eat the flesh 
of certain animals that they themselves kill for 
fear that these animals will not return to be hunted 
by them. They also hang up the skulls of the 
animals and the feathers of the birds which they 
bag for the same reason. They smear themselves 
and their arrows with uruku, glue feathers into 
their hah, etc., to attract game. Men let blood 
to make themselves more valiant hunters; women, 
to make themselves more valiant collectors. Such 
magical behavior seems largely to be a reflection 
of the disparity between the constantly recurring 
hunger drive and the means of satisfying that 
drive. Lacking realistic techniques for insuring 
his food supply, the native resorts to magical 
practices to secure it. Given the conditions that 
exist, it is surprising that food and hunting magic 
have not become even more highly elaborated. 

It is significant to note that there appears to be 
an almost complete lack of sex magic among the 
Siriono. The reason for this may be that the sex 
drive, unlike the hunger drive, is seldom frustrated 
to any great extent. The Indians rarely lack 
partners. Hence the native feels no need to rely 
on magical practice to lessen his sexual tensions. 
In fact, this type of anxiety seems to be remark- 
ably low in Siriono society. Such manifestations 
as excessive indulgence, continence, or sex dreams 
and fantasies are rarely encountered except when 
motivated by a condition of hunger frustration. 

The relative cohesiveness of the Siriono kin 
groups, the nuclear and extended families, as 
compared with the local group or band, seems also 
to stem principally from the condition of hunger 
frustration. While it is true that in most primitive 
societies kin groups are more closely knit than 
other social groups, the reasons for this may vary 
widely from one society to another. The im- 
portant fact to consider here is that among the 
Siriono family solidarity seems to spring primarily 
from a lack of economic security. The supply of 
food is often not sufficient for distribution outside of 
the nuclear family and almost never sufficient for 
distribution outside of the extended family. 
Under conditions of this kind the local group or 
band becomes relatively unimportant as a social 
group. Except for supplying sex and marital 
partners, it has few functions. Practically all 
other functions are performed by or within the 
family. In short, the family embodies almost the 
totality of culture. 



Finally, the personality of the adult Siriono is 
itself a logical consequence of a lifelong struggle 
to secure enough to eat. His early education in 
the family, his later contacts with his fellow tribes- 
men, and his final exposure to a harsh and rigorous 
environment all teach him that to survive he must 
be aggressive, individualistic, and uncooperative. 
These are the outstanding personality traits of the 
adult Siriono. The strong dependency relation- 
ships formed in infancy and early childhood do 
not persist. Gradually but prematurely they are 
displaced by traits of independence, so that when 
an Indian has reached adulthood he displays an 
individualism and apathy toward his fellows that 
is formidable. 

The apparent unconcern of one individual for 
another — even within the family — never ceased 
to amaze me while I was living with the Siriono. 
Frequently men would depart for the hunt alone— 
without so much as a good-by — and remain away 
from the band for weeks at a time without any 
concern on the part of their fellow tribesmen or 
even their wives. On one occasion Ndekai, his 
wife, and their clubfooted son stayed away from 
the band for 6 weeks, wandering from one place 
to another in search of food. When they left they 
told no one about then - plans, and while they 
were gone, no one showed the least concern about 
them. After returning from such a long absence, 
Ndekai was not even greeted by his tribesmen, 
although they eagerly tried to secure some of the 
meat he brought back with him. Such experiences 
indicate that were it not for the fact that the 
band supplies sex and marital partners, the family 
could be an independent social group among the 

Unconcern in one's fellows is manifested on 
every hand. On one occasion Ekwataia, a 
cripple who, although he was not married, had 
made an adjustment to life, went hunting. On 
his return darkness overcame him about five 
hunched yards from camp. The night was black 
as ink, and Ekwataia lost his way. He began to 
call for help — for someone to bring him fire or to 
guide him into camp by calls. No one paid heed 
to his requests, although by this time he was but 
a few hundred yards from camp. After about half 
an hour, his cries ceased, and his sister, Seaci, 
said, "A jaguar probably got him." When Ek- 
wataia returned the following morning, he told 
me that he had spent the night sitting on the 

branch of a tree to avoid being eaten by jaguars. 
His sister, however, although she manifested a 
singular unconcern for his smwival the night 
before, complained bitterly that he gave her such 
a small part of his catch. 

Such traits of character as have just been men- 
tioned in no way indicate that the average Siriono 
is maladjusted and unstable. On the contrary, 
he seems to have made a relatively stable adjust- 
ment to harsh environment and to a culture that 
offers him little reward. The Siriono data would 
indicate, however, that man in the raw state of 
nature — and the Siriono may be regarded as the 
quintessence of such a man — is anything but 
cooperative, generous, submissive, or kind. 

By way of recapitulation and conclusion a 
number of generalizations are suggested for further 
refinement and investigation in other societies 
where conditions of food insecurity and hunger 
frustration are comparable to those found among 
the Siriono. 

(1) Such societies will be characterized by a 
general backwardness of culture. A concern with 
food problems will so dominate the society that 
other aspects of its culture will be little developed. 

(2) The primary drive of hunger will dominate 
all other basic drives. 

(3) The sex drive will be mobilized principally 
through the drive of hunger. 

(4) The food quest will be painful and fatigu- 

(5) Secondary drives generally will be little 

(6) The strongest secondary drives will be 
those based on the primary drive of hunger. 

(7) Appetites for eating will be strong. 

(8) Anxieties about food will be intense. 

(9) Aggression will be expressed largely in 
terms of food; if not, such aggression will be so 
severely punished that it will be almost entirely 

(10) Prestige will be gained and status main- 
tained largely by food-getting activities. 

(11) Positions of power and authority will be 
occupied by individuals who are the best providers 
of food. 

(12) Etiquette and ritual with respect to food 
will either be lacking or it will be elaborated to a 
pronounced degree. 

(13) Fantasies and dreams about food will be 
common; if not, the subject of food will be so 



repressed that food will not appear as a symbol in 

(14) Magical practice will be devoted prin- 
cipally to increasing and insuring the supply of 

(15) The most rewarding behavior in the 
society will be that which reinforces the hunger 

(16) There will be a tendency to kill, abandon, 
neglect, or otherwise dispose, of the aged, the 
deformed young, and the extremely ill. If not, 
such dependents will occupy a favored status in 
the society. 

(17) Kin groups will be more cohesive than all 
other social groups and will perform a greater 
number of significant functions than local or 
other internal social groups. 




Benedict, Roth. 

1934. Patterns of culture. Boston and New York. 
Cardus, Jose\ 

18S6. Las Misiones Franciscanas entre los infieles de 
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Dollard, John. See Miller, N. E. . . . 
DuBois, Cora. 

1944. The people of Alor. . . . Minneapolis. 
Ford, Clellan S. 

1945. A comparative study of human reproduction. 

Yale University Publications in Anthropol- 
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Gorer, Geoffrey. 

1938. Himalayan village. . . . London. 
Herzog, Theodor. 

1910. Beitrage zur Kenntnis von Ostbolivien. Peter- 
manns Mitt., vol. 56, pt. 1, pp. 136-138, 
Jesuits. Letters from Missions. 

1781. Lettres eVlifiantes et curieuses 6crites par des 
Missionnaires de la Compagnie de Jfeus. 
26 vols. Paris. 
Keller, A. G. See Sumner, W. G. . . . 
Lettres Edifiantes. . . . See Jesuits, Letters from 

Linton, Ralph. 

1945. Cultural background of personality. New 
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1939. The group and the individual in functional 

analysis. Amer. Jour. Soc, vol. 44, No. 6. 
Mead, Margaret. 

1935. Sex and temperament in three primitive soci- 

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1942. The native tribes of eastern Bolivia and 
western Matto Grosso. Bur. Amer. Ethnol., 
Bull. 134. 
Miller, Neal E., and Dollard, John. 

1941. Social learning and imitation. New Haven. 

Mowrer, O. H. 

1940. Anxiety: Some social and psychological implica- 

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Murdoch, G. P. 

1945. The common denominator of cultures. In 
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1835-47. Voyage dans l'Am£rique Meridionale. 9 
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1S45. Fragment d'un voyage au centre de l'Arn£rique 

Meridionale . . . Paris. 
1907. Estudios sobre la geologia de Bolivia. La Paz. 
Radwan, Eduard. 

1929. Einiges iiber die Sirionos. Ztschr. f. Ethnol. 
vol. 60, pp. 291-296. 
Rtden, Stig. 

1941. A study of the Siriono Indians. Goteborg. 


1934. Kurze mitteilungen fiber die Siriono-Indianer im 
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Snethlage, Emil Heinrich. 

1936. Nachrichten fiber die Pauserna-Guarayu, die 
Siriono am Rio Baures und die S. Simonianes 
in der Nahe der Serra S. Simon. Ztschr. f. 
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1927. The science of society. 4 vols. New Haven. 
Wegner, Richard N. 

1928. Die Qurufigu'a, ein neuentdeckter Stamm 

primitivster Kultur ohne artikulierte und 
grammatikalische sprache in Ostbolivien. 
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1932. Ostbolivianische Urwaldstamme. Ethnologis- 

scher Anzeiger, vol. 2, pp. 321-340. Stuttgart. 

1934 a. Bemerkungen zu dem Artikel von P. Anselm 

Schermair, O. F. M. Kurze Mitteilungen 

fiber die Siriono-Indianer im ostlichen 

Bolivien. Anthropos, vol. 29, pp. S14-817. 

1934 b. Indianer-Rassen und Vergangene Kulturen. 

1934 c. Die Qurungu'a und Siriono. Internatl. 
Cong. Americanists Proc, vol. 24, pp. 
Whiting, John W. M. 

1941. Becoming a Kwoma; teaching and learning in a 
New Guinea tribe. New Haven. 


Abortion, absence of, 6. 
Adoption, 49. 

frequency of, 61. 

punishment of, 61. 

isiriono concept of, 64. 

activities of, 84-85. 

ceremonies of, 83-84. 

concept of, 83. 
Aged, treatment of, 85, 97. 

at drinking feasts, 39. 

between cowives, 49-50. 

between husband and wife, 50. 

dissipation of, by hunting, 62. 

expressed in terms of food, 96, 98. 
Agriculture, native practice of, 28-29. 
Aguaf fruit: 

collection, 28. 

preparation, 35. 
Airplanes, native beliefs about, 67. 
Alligator, hunting of, 26. 

Ambaibo tree (Cecropia sp.) , uses of, 7, 11, 12. 
Anaconda snake, 7. 

taboo on meat of, 33. 
Animal husbandry, 29-30. 

domestic, 29-30. 

hunting of, 23-27. 

in folklore, 46-47. 

knowledge of, 47. 

magical beliefs about, 91. 
Animal teeth: 

necklaces of, 19. 

tools of, 14. 

used in bloodletting, 69. 
Anteater, hunting of, 26. 
Ants, as pests, 7. 

about food, 30, 93-99. 

about sickness, 86. 

definition of, 94. 
Armadillo, 7. 

beliefs about, 66. 

hunting of, 26-27. 

manufacture, 15-17. 

repair, 17. 

size, 16. 
Art, 44. 
Ashes : 

use of, in bloodletting ceremony, 84. 

used for purification, 70, 73. 
Assai palm (Euterpe oleracea), 2, 7, 28. 

Baby slings: 

for carrying children, 43. 

for decoration, 69, 72. 

manufacture of, 12. 
Bamboo, S. 

drinking vessels of, 37, 38. 

use in arrow making, 15-17. 

use of, as a knife, 14, 68. 
Band, 50-51: 

as a kin group, 50. 

composition of, 51. 

functions of, 51. 

territories of, 51—52. 
Barrace, Cvprian, 9. 
Basketry, 12. 

Bats, as pests, 7. 

vampire, 40. 
Baur<§ Indians, S. 

Siriono fear of, 63. 
Baures, village of, 4, 6, 9. 
Benedict, Ruth, 93. 
Bennett, Wendell, 4. 
Bloodletting, 20. 

after childbirth, 69, 72. 

ceremonial. 83-84. 

in curing, 87. 
Body mutilation, 20, 83-S4. 

manufacture, 14-15. 

method of drawing, 15. 

size, 15. 
Bowstring, manufacture and application of, 15. 
Bridge building, 43. 
Burden carrying, 27, 43. 
Bushmaster snake, 7, 32. 

Calabashes : 

disposal of, at death, 87. 

preparation of, 13. 

uses of, 13, 38. 
Camotes. See Agriculture. 
Cardus, Jose\ 10. 

Casarabe, 2, 9, 10, 37, 51, 66, 74, 86. 
Celestial phenomena, native explanations of, 47. 
Ceramics, 12-13. 

bloodletting, 20, 83-84. 

childbirth, 67-70. 

funeral, 87-S9. 

magical, 91. 

marriage, 81. 

naming, 74-75. 

puberty, 80-81. 
Cerro Blanco, 6, 7. 
Cerro San Sim6n, 7. 
Chieftainship, 59-60. 
Childbirth, 67-73. 
Childhood, 77-80. 
Child, I., 94. 

Chiquitos region of Bolivia, 6, 7. 
Chiriguano Indians, 10. 
Chonta palm, 7. 

fruits of, as food, 28. 

seeds of, as necklaces, 20. 

tools of, 14. 

weapons of, 14-17. 
Chuchio (Gynerium sagitlatum) , 8. 
Cleanliness training, 75-76. 
Clothing, lack of, 19. 
Clubfootedness : 

frequency of, S. 

treatment of clubfooted children, 76. 

Coati, 7 

hunting of, 26. 
Collecting, 27-28. 

in housebuilding, 17-18. 

in hunting, 23, 25. 

lack of, 9S. 
Coquino fruit, 7, 22, 28, S6. 
Cormorant, 7, 24. 

planting of, 29. 

spinning, 11. 

use of string in decoration, 20, 69. 




Counting, native ways of, 47-48. 
Couvade, practice of, 68-70. 
Cross-cousin marriage, 81. 
Cross-Cultural Survey, 1. 
Curassow, 7. 

feathers of, used in arrow making, 16. 
used in decoration, 19, 69. 

hunting of, 23. 

Daily round, 40-41. 
Dancing, 44—46. 
Death, customs of, 87-89. 
Deer, 7. 

hunting of, 25. 
Deer flies, as pests, 7. 
Diarrhea, treatment of, 87, 88. 
Diet, 30-32. 

after childbirth, 72. 

at puberty, 80. 

during bloodletting ceremonies, 84. 

during mourning, 88. 

during pregnancy, 66. 

of infants, 76. 
Digging stick, manufacture and uses, 14. 

causes of, native belief, 86. 

knowledge of, 86. 

prevalence of, 85-86. 

signs of, 86. 

treatment of, 86-87. 
Division of labor, by sex, 41-42. 
Divorce, 83. 

Dollard, John, 1, 4, 92, 93. 
Dreams, native interpretation of, 91. 
Dress, 19-21. 
Drinking feasts, 37-39. 

aggression at, 62. 

in relation to culture, 92-99. 

primary, 92. 

secondary, 92. 
DuBoise, Cora, 93. 
Ducks, 7. 

hunting of, 24. 

Eating, 36. 

Education, of children, 77-80. 

El Carmen, village of, 2, 6, 9. 

Endogamy, 81. 

Evil spirits, in religious belief, 90. 

Exogamy, 81. 

Exploitative activities, 21-30. 

Family : 

extended, 50. 

nuclear, 49. 
Fauna, 7. 

lack of featherwork, 12. 

use of, in decoration and ornament, 19, 69, 79, 

use of, in making arrows, 16. 
Fire, 11. 
Fishing, 27. 
Flora, 7-8. 
Folklore, 46-47. 
Food, 30-32. 

anxiety about, 94. 

as a lure in obtaining sex partners, 64. 

eating of, 36. 

insults in terms of, 39. 

of babies, 76. 

preparation of, 34-35. 

preservation and storage of, 34. 

seasonal, 22. 

taboos, 32-34, 66, 68, 72, 80, 84. 

Ford, Clellan S., 1, 4, 93, 94. 
Fowling, 24. 
Fruits, wild, 7. 

as food, 35. 

collection of, 27-28. 
Fuel supply, 30. 

Gestalt, use of in native mathematics, 48. 

Glue, manufacture of, 11. 

Gnats, as pests, 7. 

Gorer, Geoffrey, 93. 

Group marriage, 81. 

Guan, 7. 

hunting of, 24. 
Guarani Indians, 9. 
Guarayos, Indians, 10, 63. 

Missions of, 3, 6, 9. 


cut, 20. 

depilation, 20-21, 69, 76. 

style, 20, 69. 
Hammock, manufacture of, 11-12. 
Harpy eagle, 7. 

down of, used in magic, 91. 

feathers of, used on arrows, 16. 

taboo on meat of, 33. 
Hearths, lack of, 11. 
Hepner, Lothar, 4. 
Herbal remedies, 87. 
Herzog, Theodor, 10. 
History, of Siriono, 8-10. 
Holmberg, Laura, 4. 

collection of, 28. 

use in making mead, 38. 

construction of, 17. 

furnishings, 18-19. 

size of, 18. 

type, 17. 
Hull, Clark, 1, 4. 
Hunting, 23-27. 


learning by, 75. 

of animals, 23. 

occurrence of, 61. 

punishment of, 61. 

rules of, 64-65. 
Individualism, of Siriono, 60, 98. 
Infancy, 75-76. 
Infanticide, lack of, 66. 
Ingroup conflict, 61-62. 

of chieftainship, 21, 60. 

of property, 21. 

Indians, 8. 

River, 6. 

Jaguar, 7. 

equated with dog, 29. 

hunting of, 26. 

mythical, 47. 
Jesuits, 9. 
Justice, informal and private nature of, 61. 

Keller, A. G., 93. 

behavior, 56-58. 

charts, 53, 55, 56. 

system, 52-56. 



Law, native, 60-61. 

Leigue, Adolfo, 4. 

Levirate, 81. 

Life cycle, 63-89. 

Lightning, native explanation of, 47. 

Linton, Ralph, 93. 

Loayza Beltran, Carlos, 4. 

Macaw, 7. 

hunting of. 24. 
Magdalena, village of, 4, 6, 9. 
Magic, native practice of, 91. 
Maize. See Agriculture. 
Malinowski, Bronislaw, 4, 93. 
Manioc. See Agriculture. 
Marriage, native customs of, 81-83. 
Massage, use of in curing, 87. 
Materna. Francisco, 3. 
Matrilocal residence, 81. 
Mead, manufacture and drinking of, 38-39. 
Mead, Margaret, 93. 
Menstruation, 65. 
Methods, of field work, 3. 
Metraux, Alfred, 4, 10. 
Miller, Neal E., 1, 92, 93. 
Miscarriage, 66-67. 
Mist, native explanation of, 47. 
Mobility, extent of, 42-43. 
Mojo Indians, 8. 
Mollusk shells, as tools, 14. 
Monkeys, 7. 

hunting of, 24. 
Monsters, native beliefs about, 90. 

as a culture hero, 46, 47. 

rays of, cause of blindness, 18. 
More 1 Indians, 8. 
Mortars, making and uses of, 13. 
Mosquitoes, as pests, 7. 
Motacii palm, 7. 

baskets and mats of, 12. 

heart of, used as food, 22, 27, 35. 

roofing of leaves of, 17-18. 
Mourning, customs of, 87-89. 
Mowrer, O. H., 94, 95. 
Multiple births, 70. 

Murder, occurrence and punishment of, 60-61. 
Murdock, G. P., 1, 4, 92, 93. 
Music, 44-46. 
Mussel shells, as tools, 14. 
Mythology, sparse development of, 46. 

Naming, 74-75. 
Narcotics, 37 
Necklaces, 19-20 
Nicknames, 74-75 
Nordenskiold, E., 9, 10, 62 

Ornaments, 19-21, 69-70, 72-73 
Orbigny, Alcide d', 9, 43 
Osgood, Cornelius, 4 
Otero, Gustav, 4 

Paca, 7 

hunting of, 27 
Pacav (Inga sp.), 7 

fruit as food, 22, 28, 35 
Pacobilla tree, 7 

fruit as food, 22, 2.8 
Palm cabbage, collecting of, 27 
Palometa fish, 7 

use of teeth as tool, 14 
Palo Santo tree, 7, 8 
Papaya. See Agriculture. 
Parrots, 7. 

hunting of, 24. 

Partridge, 7. 

hunting of, 24. 
Paternity, native concepts of, 733 
Peccary, 7. 

hunting of, 24-25 
Physical type, Siriono, 8 
Pipes, manufacture of, 13. 
Planets, native concepts of, 47. 
Plants, Siriono knowledge of, 47. 
Play groups, children's, 79. 
Polygyny, practice of, 81, 82. 
Pottery, manufacture of, 12-13. 
Pregnancy, 65-67. 
Preparation of food, 34-35. 
Preservation of food, 34. 
Prestige, methods of gaining, 58-59. 
Property, 21. 
Puberty rites, 80-81. 


frequency of, and reasons for, 61-62. 
within the family, 49-50. 

Radwan, Arthur, 10. 

Rainbow, native explanation of, 47. 

Rape, occurrence and punishment of, 61. 

Reciprocity, 60. 

Religion, 90-92. 

Reproduction, native ideas and practices of, 65-67. 

Richards, Abraham, 44. 

Richards, F. P., 2, 4. 


Rio Blanco, 6, 7, 9. 

Rio Grande, 6, 9. 

Rio Guapore\ 6, 9. 

Rio Itenez, 6, 7, 9. 

Rio Itonama, 6. 

Rio Machupo, 6. 

Rio Madeira, 6. 

Rio Mamore, 6, 9. 

Rio Negro, 6. 

Rio Piray, 6. 

Rio San Joaquin, 6. 

Rio San Martin, 6. 

Rio San Miguel, 6, 9. 

Rio San Pablo, 6. 
Rousseau, Ren6, 4. 
Ryden, Stig, 10. 

Salas, Horacio, 4. 
Salt, 35. 

Salutations, lack of, 40. 

after childbirth, 69. 

in curing, 87. 
Schermair, Anselm, 10, 91. 
Scorpions, as pests, 7. 
Seasonal cycle, 21-22. 

Sex, native concepts and practices of, 63-65. 
Shellfish, 7. 

Silva Sanchez, Luis, 2, 4, 89. 
Singing, 44-46. 

Siringueros (rubber tappers), 63. 
Social control, 60-61. 
Social organization, 49-63. 
Social Science Research Council, 1, 4. 
Social stratification, 58-59. 
Solares, A., Medardo, 67. 
Solares A., Napole<5n, 4. 
Sororate, marriage by, 81. 
Soul, beliefs about, 91. 
Spindles, 11. 

Spindle whorls, manufacture of, 13. 
Spinning, 11. 
Stalking of game, 23. 
Stars, native explanation of, 47. 



Storage of food, 34. 
Streams, crossing of, 43. 
Sumner, W. G., 93. 
Swimming, 43. 

Tapir, 7. 

hunting of, 25-26. 
Technology, of the Siriono, 11-21. 
Teknonymy, 51. 
Textile industries, 11-12. 
Theft, occurrence and punishment of, 61. 
Thunder, native explanation of, 47. 
Time, native concepts of, 48. 

reckoning, 48. 
planting, 29. 
preparation, 37. 
smoking, 37, 38. 
Tools, manufacture and uses of, 14. 
Tortoises, 7. 

use of, as food, 28, 34. 
Toucan, 7. 

feathers of, for decoration, 19, 69. 

hunting of, 24. 
Trails, 42. 

Transportation, 42-44. 
Travel, 42-44. 
Trinidad, city of, 2, 6. 
Tupian language, 8. 


beliefs about, 70. 
birth of, 70-73. 

Uruku {Bixa orellana): 

use in decoration, 11, 19. 
use in healing, 87. 
use in magic, 91. 

Utensils, 13. 

Vultures, 7. 

eating of, 33. 

Warfare, 62-63. 

Wasps, as pests, 7. 

Watercraft, lack of, 42. 

Water supply, 30. 

Weaning, 76. 

Weapons, 14-17. 

Wegner, Richard, 4, 10, 91. 

Whistling, 23. 

Whiting, John W. M., 1, 4, 93, 94. 

Women, position of, 59, 84-85. 

Wood ticks, as pests, 7. 

Work, 40-41. 

Wrestling, 39. 

Yale University, 1, 4. 
Yanaigua Indians, 9. 
Siriono fear of, 63. 


m i i 

Plate 1 .— a, Typical Siriono hut inside of forest (Tibaera). b, Pregnant woman, Eakwantui; later she gave birth to 
twins (Tibaera). c, Eruba-erasi (Sick-faee), a Siriono boy about 14 years ,,1,1 (Tibaera). 

79440—50 (Face p. 104 I 


,ATE -'.- 

a, Siriono chief and his Bve wives outside of primitive hut at Casarabe. 6, Siriono boys at Casarabe with 

catch of armadillos and anteaters. 


n vi 

'■^*Wt**.*r~ " 


Plate 3. — a, Enia demonstrating the method of carrying baskets by men (Tibaera). h, Yikinandu watching one 
of his sons draw the bow (Tibaera). c, Bringing in firewood from forest in carrying baskets (Tibaera). d, A 
hunter who has retrieved a curassow (Tibaera). 

5 5 

=3 2 

, 1 

*F 'Hi 

3 o 




* - 



I'i.atk li. D, Cultiim up monkej meat outside of hut (Tibaera). b, Monkey meat roasting in 

the jungle (Tibaera). 

5 t> 



A ate Dut